BUSY TIMES FOR All GIBRALTAR SQUADS
June 2022 saw one of the busiest ever international windows for Gibraltar’s Men’s National Teams with seven international fixtures jammed into a 14 day period, four of which were away from home.
The Men’s National Team were scheduled to play in four UEFA Nations League matches, in what was to be their debut in League C of the competition, having won promotion from League D in the 2020 edition of the Nations League. Four internationals in one window was also somewhat of a unique situation, owing to the changes made due to the winter world cup, as outside of major tournament finals, no European international window will usually feature four competitive matches.
Georgia Away, North Macedonia at home, Bulgaria at home and then North Macedonia away was to be Gibraltar’s gruelling schedule of League C Group 4 fixtures for June, and despite two difficult away days in Tbilisi and Skopje, losing 4-0 respectively in both matches, the home games against North Macedonia and Bulgaria were huge positives. Unlucky not to win both, a 2-0 defeat to North Macedonia somewhat flattered the Macedonians with Gibraltar squandering the better chances. The second home game of the week was even better for Gibraltar as they dominated against the pre-tournament group favourites – Bulgaria. Despite conceding a soft goal just on half time a second half Liam walker penalty secured a 1-1 draw with Gibraltar once again having plenty of chances to go on and win the game.
Gibraltar’s Under 21s also has two of their three matches this June away from home and difficult away trips in the Netherlands and Wales saw them lose 6-0 and 2-0 respectively. However, like the Gibraltar’s National Team, 2 three days before them, they were to have their moment against Bulgaria U21s when they held them to a 1-1 draw at the Victoria Stadium. Ironically and identically, it was a second half penalty that sealed the draw which could have been so different if they had taken their chances. Nevertheless, the result was a tremendous one.
For many nations, for many national football teams of any age group, for many football associations and federations, two home 1-1 draws in the space of three days may not be much to shout about. For Gibraltar and Gibraltarians all around the world it is the complete opposite. Two 1-1 draws, one in a senior men’s international and another at men’s U21 level are two results to treasure.
Bulgaria are the nation that produced Hristo Stoichkov, and his band of brothers who reached the semi finals of USA ’94. In more recent times they have been spearheaded by Dimitar Berbatov alongside Stilyan and Martin Petrov. Bulgaira are the team that were in League B of the previous edition of the UEFA Nations League. Gibraltar is a team, that in their eyes, should not be a problem for them.
A country with a population of 6.9 million humbled by two draws in three days at the Victoria Stadium. And, in truth, when one looks back upon the two games Bulgaria can consider themselves fortunate to leave Gibraltar with two draws when arguably they should have left with two defeats.
Gibraltar’s goal scorers, two offensive midfielders at different ends of their careers, Liam Walker and Dylan Peacock both clinically slotted away their spot kicks under the iconic gaze of the Rock of Gibraltar, however in these two ‘David versus Goliath’ fixtures the performances were team efforts with not one player in the Gibraltar shirt shirking responsibility, hard work, grit, determination or an ounce of passion in playing for their shirt, their fans and their country. Both results masterminded by Head Coaches Julio Ribas and David Ochello and their sensational backroom team and support staff.
Two draws. Yes, two draws, but for Gibraltar they mean more. In terms of the size of our nation, our population, our footballing infrastructure, the number of pitches available to us, these results simply should not happen.
But football simply isn’t played on paper. It is played with heart, passion, desire and a willingness to pull on your nations jersey and simply give every ounce of energy, putting your body on the line, being first into the tackle, first to make that all important block. It’s blood, sweat and tears, and when this is combined with Gibraltarian grit and sheer determination to punch above our weight, anything is possible!