Getting to know the opposition

in Sport Insight

QUALIFICATION for Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals kicks off next month when Gibraltar, drawn in Group G, play host to Norway and Netherlands, those two games sandwiching an away trip to Montenegro, with Turkey and Latvia completing this tough six-team group. Pandemic permitting, the nation that tops the table when qualifying finishes next November will have booked their ticket direct to the finals, with the runners-up advancing to the playoffs for a second chance to join them on the plane to Qatar, the first time the tournament will be staged in the Middle East.

Gibraltar hopes have been buoyed by recent confirmation from UEFA that their home games, in this their second World Cup campaign, can be played at Victoria Stadium, unlike their first foray into the global competition – Russia 2018 – when the Rock were required to play their “home” ties in the vast, almost empty Portuguese Faro stadium, a rather soulless, eerie experience, nothing like the frenzied but friendly atmosphere created at the Vic in previous international and club encounters, notably on nights when Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark and Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers came calling.

Fresh from the Rock’s remarkable achievement of promotion to Division C in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, Julio’s “Gibraltarian Warriors” will not lack for confidence in embarking on this ultra competitive qualification odyssey. In addition to charismatic coach Ribas, who has engendered a special family togetherness in the squad, there is the never-say-die spirit of “Captain Fantastic” Roy Chipolina, the creative quality of midfield dynamo Liam Walker and the goal poaching power of Lee Casciaro, lionhearts the entire squad, all dedicated to achieving the impossible, but, alas, cold reality decrees that qualification for Qatar 2022 will be a dream too far, but hey, there will be fun and maybe even glory nights on the way.

When Gibraltar was warmly welcomed into FIFA’s football family on 13th May, 2016, it wasn’t an event just about opening up world football to the Rock, but also about opening up Gibraltar to the world. Gibraltar is a picture postcard destination with a first class but sadly underused airport, practically every person on earth has heard of the Rock, but not that many have visited, and now international football is providing opportunities for footy fans from all over the globe to put that right, sit in the sun and quaff cider in Casemates Square, hit the casino tables, roll the dice and explore the delights of Ocean Village, while Gib’s footy fans reciprocate by rocking up to exotic destinations, like wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, tip-toe through the tulips in Amsterdam and spend drunken nights in Dublin.

Gibraltar’s Group G campaign, labelled the Group of Death, commences with a Viking visit from Norway on 24th March and concludes on 16th November, again at Victoria Stadium, when familiar foe Latvia provide the opposition. What a finale that night would be should the impossible have come to pass, with Julio’s boys still having something to play for – most unlikely of course, but it’s nice to dream!

Coronavirus protocols may have relaxed somewhat come the last week of March, the impressive rollout of the vaccine and responsible social distancing may by then have put a check on this ghastly

pandemic, perhaps sufficient for the lockdown to be lifted, Victoria Stadium and the pubs given the green light to reopen, deprived and parched footy fans free once more to quench their thirst and toast their heroes as they rub shoulders with visiting football greats. Who knows, maybe travel restrictions may be lifted in time to join Julio’s army on battlefields abroad!

Let’s take a quick glance at the opposition….


NETHERLANDS

Population: 17.15m

Capital: Amsterdam, (Parliament and Government based in The Hague). Stadium: Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam (Capacity 55,500)

Fifa World Ranking: 14th

Head Coach: Frank de Boer

Previous Gibraltar encounters: None. 

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Netherlands – 30th March, KO 20:45 CET / Netherlands vs Gibraltar – 11th        October, KO 20:45 CET

The Netherlands, the nation that brought “total football” to an enchanted world, iconic names over the decades, Van Basten, Cruyff, Kluivert, Neeskens, van Nistelrooy, still elicit goose bumps. No one of that calibre in the current squad, save perhaps captain Virgil van Dijk, but a single point from the Dutch masters would be a huge achievement for Gibraltar.

When in Amsterdam: Three-course dinner for two (no alcohol) will set you back around £70. A small bottle of beer costs £4.50.


LATVIA

Population: 1.92m

Capital: Riga

Stadium: Daugava Stadium, Riga (Capacity 10,460)

Fifa World Ranking: 136th

Head Coach: Dainis Kazakevics

Previous Gibraltar encounters: Two friendlies, a win apiece – Gibraltar 0-5 Latvia (29th March, 2016); Gibraltar 1-0 Latvia (25th March, 2018).

Match Dates: Latvia vs Gibraltar – 1st September, KO 20:45 CET / Gibraltar vs Latvia – 16th November, KO 20:45 CET

Honours shared in the two previous clashes and Gibraltar will have realistic prospects of gaining points from both these games.

When in Riga: Three-course dinner for two can be had for a reasonable £36, while a bottle of beer is available for just £1.50.


NORWAY

Population: 5.33m

Capital: Oslo

Stadium: Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo (Capacity 28,000) Fifa World Ranking: 44th

Head Coach: Ståle Solbakken

Previous Gibraltar encounters: No previous meetings. 

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Norway – 24th March, KO 20:45 CET / Norway vs Gibraltar – 7th September, KO 20:45 CET

Tough opening opponents, a draw would be a great result.

When in Oslo: Expect to pay about £78 for a three-course dinner for two (no alcohol) and a small bottle of beer costs a wince-inducing £7.75.


MONTENEGRO

Population: 622,157

Capital: Podgorica

Stadium: Podgorica City Stadium (Capacity 15,225).

Fifa World Ranking: 63rd

Head Coach: Miodrag Radulovic

Previous Gibraltar encounters: None.

Match Dates: Montenegro vs Gibraltar – 27th March, KO 15:00 CET / Gibraltar vs Montenegro – 8th October, KO 20:45 CET

The Balkan territory could well prove to be a fruitful points source for Julio’s boys.

When in Podgorica: A three-course dinner for two is a very palatable practical giveaway at £23, especially washed down with a £1.70 bottle of beer.


TURKEY

Population: 82.3m

Capital: Ankara

Stadium: Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul (Capacity 76,760)

Fifa World Ranking: 32nd

Head Coach: Senol Gunes

Previous Gibraltar encounters: No previous meetings.

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Turkey – 4th September, KO 20:45 CET / Turkey vs Gibraltar – 13th November, KO 18:00 CET

Very tough opponents where any points return would be a huge bonus.

When in Istanbul: Three-course dinner for two is a very reasonable £30 and a bottle of beer can be yours for £2.30.


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