As we leave 2014 behind – an exciting year for sure – it would only be right to look at what is coming up in the next 12 months.
The first international involvement for Gib sees the futsal team travel to Bulgaria to face the hosts, Greece and Denmark in Futsal Euro qualifiers. Two years since Gibraltar’s first involvement in any UEFA competition, it is hoped that the futsal team will carry on the progress that the small-sided game has achieved on the Rock, both domestically and internationally.
March will see Gibraltar play their fifth Senior qualifying match, away at Scotland. The match at Hampden Park will be the hosts first since renovations were implemented at the ground ahead of the Commonwealth Games, and Gibraltar will be hoping to continue the progress that has seen them only allow four goals past the World Champions. For sure, a repeat of the 7-0 loss vs Ireland, which made for hard viewing at times, should not be repeated now the team, both players and staff, are no longer naive to the monumental task ahead of them in the form of five professional teams with years of international experience.
As spring turns to summer, the domestic league reaches its climax. With Lincoln two points ahead of nearest rivals College Europa, you’d fancy the Red Imps to once again retain their title, despite the gap between them and the other top teams in the league finally getting closer. The UEFA money, criticised by some as it has led to noticeably less locals playing in the league, has at least turned the league into more of a real contest instead of a Sunday stroll for Lincoln.
The Rock Cup could potentially decide who takes Gibraltar’s Europa League spot for next season too, providing Lincoln don’t win that of course. After last year’s farce with both College and Manchester 62 thinking they had qualified, the rules should be set in stone now, and no last minute alterations are expected.
The Second Division will also wrap up, with four teams currently believing they can finish in a top two spot, and have their chance to get a slice of the top division pie. Top of the pile are Gibraltar United, back for this season with a ‘Bilbao’ approach to their team, but with fellow ‘newbies’ Gibraltar Scorpions, Angels FC and Europa Point hot on their heels, the second tier is by no means decides. Who knows, if the GFA decide to expand the Premier to 10 teams, we might see a couple of these teams in the Premier next year.
June sees the World Champions come to Faro for the return qualifier. With it being the first “home” match since October, hopefully friendlies are arranged where possible before the match. This leads onto the issue of FIFA membership. Sepp Blatter may have said no to the GFA joining the world football body, but another trip to CAS might change that. However, provisional membership at a minimum is needed before June if Gib want to be in the World Cup qualifying draw, and not be exiled from competitive football from November 2015 until after Russia 2018.
July sees two teams take on the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers. With Gibraltar hot on the heels of San Marino in the coefficients, a good result or two could ensure two Europa League spots are up for grabs in the 2016/17 season.
As for the second half of the year, there’s little different to the last six months. The under 17’s and under 19’s once again go to battle in qualifiers,with the U19’s being put in the same group as France and the Netherlands. A new season starts once again, the final Senior qualifiers are played out, and with Allen Bula’s contract expiring after those qualifiers, it remains to be seen whether the GFA choose to renew his deal.
On a side note, there are rumours of Gibraltar sending a team to the Island Games in Jersey in the summer. Most likely it will be a women’s team, who need the game time, but it is something to keep an eye out for.
Regardless of what happens, 2015 promises to be another busy year for the football scene in Gibraltar.