Been meaning to do this for a while, but have only got around to doing this now, so let’s look at the game from two weeks ago, where Gibraltar made their competitive debut in a 7-0 loss to Poland.
Not the ideal start for Bula’s team, and unfortunately a result that gave fuel to those who believe small nations don’t belong in the main qualifiers, and should ‘earn’ their right to play ‘bigger’ countries. However, despite the scoreline, there were positives to take from actually watching the 90 minutes of the match.
For one, the first half itself wasn’t that bad a performance. When Poland scored their first, Gibraltar could easily have crumbled then, and let three or four in before half time. It didn’t happen, and Kamil Grosicki’s goal was all that separated the teams in the first half. Star striker Robert Lewandowski was quiet, and Gib, when possible, tried to play football instead of kicking lumps out of the opposition (Poland picked up two first half yellow cards to Gibraltar’s zero).
There were also positives in the individual performances of certain players. Brian Perez particularly did well on what was his ‘official’ debut; especially when he wasn’t in the original 23 man squad. Both Lee and Kyle Casciaro put in promising performances, linking up well as you would expect two brothers and club team-mates to do.
As far as a collective unit went, the defence was generally solid in the first half. David Artell could perhaps have done better for the first goal, but in general he, and the rest of the back four did well for the first half. Perez was helpless for the first goal, but his save just before that was very good, and in general he did all he could for the first 45 minutes.
A final positive, throughout the 90 minutes, was the support of the fans. Despite the scoreline, they were loud, as expected, and gave their best support to the 11 men on the pitch.
The major negative from the game was the first 15 minutes of the second half. That ‘section’ of the match was an important one in keeping things tight, and keeping the score 1-0 for longer would have started to make the Poland players a bit nervous. Instead, Nawalka’s side scored four goals in that time and killed the game off. This is something I’m sure the players will learn from and hopefully not repeat in future games.
There were one or two other negatives that can be taken, when putting the scale of the match and the gulf in opposition into context. Rafa Bado didn’t put in the sort of performance that he is capable of; he’ll be the first to admit that, and it led to him being taken off for Jake Gosling.
There was an issue with naivety at times. Obviously buoyed by the games vs Estonia and Malta, as well as a decent 45 in the first half, the Gib team tried to take the game to their Polish counterparts in the second half; this left them open for a striker of Lewandowski’s calibre to take advantage. I wouldn’t criticise the team much for this though, it was their first competitive game and by far the biggest game they had ever been in. However, this is something I imagine the team will have in their minds in the Ireland and Georgia games, and perhaps will be more sensible in when and how they try and take the game to opponents.
Fitness wasn’t as big an issue as I expected it to be, although it attributed to the last two goals. Considering most of the team had very limited competitive matches under their belt this season, they could have been a lot worse. If anything, they tired mentally instead of physically at the end of the game, something which can be trained out of them.
The players need to believe that they belong on the same stage as their more illustrious opponents. The more games they do play, the more they’ll start to believe this, and results will slowly start to improve. There’s a long road to go down before the national team may start picking up competitive victories, but it’s a road the team, both players and staff, have to go down if they want to progress over the next few years, and pass on the mentality of winning to the next generation of Gibraltarian players.