Gibraltar fall flat against Wales in 4-0 defeat
Gibraltar faced Wales for the first time since it entered UEFA. Although the relations between the Gibraltar FA and Wales FA have been an important factor in Gibraltar’s progress during its first ten years as a UEFA member at the senior level, Gibraltar had not yet played the Welsh. The only confrontations on the field between the two nations had taken place at the youth level, with Gibraltar coming off worse from them.
The All-British international friendly came ahead of Gibraltar’s match against the Republic of Ireland, this Monday, where Gibraltar was seeking an opportunity to try and get some points. Wales was one of the closest opponents they could face to the Republic of Ireland.
The international friendly, played at the Racecourse Lane stadium in Wrexham, marked the first time Wales had played there since 2019. It also saw one of the first instances where two teammates played on opposing sides at the international level when it comes to a match involving Gibraltar. Tjay De Barr’s presence at Wycombe Wanderers pitted him against one of his teammates. This is a sign of the progress made by Gibraltar, although they still have a long way to go, as Gibraltar found themselves struggling midway through the first half.
The opening minutes of the match saw Gibraltar enjoying some space to play in, with a few incursions into Wales’ half. De Barr showed he wanted to make his mark and put defenders under pressure.
Nevertheless, Wales had the better of possession and soon opened the scoring. On the 22nd minute, a corner to the far post saw the ball curled into the goalmouth behind the keeper. Davies, who ran through unmarked, met the ball with a header to put Wales in front. Moore, on the 25th minute, was to score Wales’ second goal. Gibraltar’s defense held back from placing pressure on Wales as they calmly passed the ball around the left side of the box. Placing the ball into the penalty area, Moore jumped unchallenged and placed his header to the far post away from Coleing’s reach to score. Gibraltar found themselves under pressure, and Coleing had to make a couple of good saves just moments later. On the 32nd minute, Gibraltar’s defense cleared from under the post after another corner was well met with a header. Wales dominated possession and penned Gibraltar back in their half, with the hosts looking for their third. Broadheard, on the 34th minute, retained the ball well and dribbled past defenders, sending Coleing the wrong way as Wales added their third.
Coleing was in action again, palming a shot over the bar as Cullen feigned past defenders to get space for a close shot on goal on the 29th minute. Unable to retain possession, Gibraltar struggled to get past the halfway line. A one-two just outside the penalty area saw Coleing save once again from Cullen. Wales was very much in control. Moore, who had tried an overhead kick just moments earlier, was to add the fourth for Wales, running through the middle of the penalty area behind defenders to meet a cross from James. Coleing had little chance to stop the oncoming header in what was the first minute of injury time. As they headed into the halftime break with a 4-0 deficit, Gibraltar’s preparations for their match against the Republic of Ireland on Monday seemed to be heading into total disarray. Gibraltar saw Wales dominating possession and had little to respond with. Gibraltar head coach Julio Ribas needed to find a way to stop the flow of the game.
Ribas was to introduce Moeuhli for Jayce Olivero, adding height to the center of the defense where Gibraltar was missing Bernardo Lope through injury. Wales was to make four substitutions as they headed into the second half, in a match in which they already had a comfortable lead.
Tightly packed at the back, Gibraltar was immediately penned into their half, digging deep in defense, almost playing the first minutes with the bulk of players at the very edge of the penalty box. Sharp passing from Wales, with an ever-growing confidence, saw Wales keeping Gibraltar chasing shadows, although limited in the number of shots in those early minutes. Savage had the first speculative shot from distance on the 48th minute, which was comfortably gathered by Coleing. Although playing a very defensive game, with a 4-goal deficit, Gibraltar showed less vulnerability through the middle of defense as they settled into what is becoming Gibraltar’s brick wall defensive posture.
Gibraltar did not get into Wales’ half until the 52nd minute, with Tjay De Barr trying to get past defenders at the edge of the box before his attempted pass to Britto was lost to the defense. Britton was penalized for a late challenge as he tried to regain possession. Gibraltar found themselves penned back once again.
The match, which coincided with the leaders’ election debate, was broadcast via the GBC website, with the number of people watching as the match reached its hour mark showing that the numbers were under 100. This was a sign of the growing disappointment of Gibraltar fans due to the continued reliance on a heavy defensive posture from Gibraltar.
Critically, as the minutes ticked away, the growing tiredness of some of the Gibraltar players was showing. Pozo was replaced by Joseph Chipolina on the 58th minute. Ribas opted for experience but at the same time relied on the thirty-plus players as he sought to bring some composure into his defense.
Wales came very close to scoring, with Sheenan just missing getting a touch as the ball went across the goal. The pace of the game slowed down as Wales looked happy to retain possession and stick to short passes. Williams was replaced with Wilson coming on for Wales. Ribas made a surprise change with Ethan Jolley replaced for Evan De Haro, the latter a debutant for the senior team having only just risen from the Under 21 squad. Gibraltar looked more settled in defense as Wales lowered their pace.
Gibraltar had a small surge forward, with Joseph Chipolina doing well to clear the danger at the back and providing a chance for Gibraltar to thread the ball forward to Tjay De Barr. The Gibraltar forward made an attempt to drive his way into the Wales penalty area. Gibraltar lost possession after Liam Walker tried a quick one-two with De Barr, which was easily intercepted. Once again, Gibraltar lost possession easily in a match in which they lacked retention of the ball and showed far less focus than they had in matches such as that against France and the Netherlands.
With 70 minutes gone, Coombes and El Hmidi came on for Walker and De Barr, offering Gibraltar the opportunity to test a separate pairing upfront. El Hmidi took the pivotal position upfront with Coombes playing directly behind him, providing fresher legs on the field for Gibraltar. Joseph Chipolina had a header on goal going over the bar on the 74th minute, although he had been judged to be offside. This was as Wales provided Gibraltar with some added space to play through having slowed their pace.
The hosts, who were due to play a crucial group qualifier against Croatia, now went at training ground pace. This did not prevent James from hitting the woodwork with a fabulous attempt from the edge of the right edge of the box. Coleing was well beaten, but the ball smashed against the post, providing Welsh fans with something to cheer in what was turning out to be a dull match for home fans who were seeing international football return to their home ground.
The match was attended by just over 10,000 people at a ground that could hold 11,000. On the 84th minute, James floated a ball into the goalmouth, which was well met by a two-fisted Coleing clearance, at the same time taking Bradshaw with him, who had to be attended to inside the goal.
Parked into defense, the differences between Gibraltar’s 198th ranked position in the FIFA rankings and Wales’ 33rd ranked position were clear to see as Gibraltar struggled to come out of their half. A chance to go forward saw Gibraltar immediately forced to pass back as they risked losing the ball with players having advanced their lines.
Gibraltar was able to grab a positive from the match. Having settled into a very defensive posture, they were able to stop Wales from scoring a fifth goal. However, Wales’ decision to slow their pace had contributed to aiding Gibraltar in fulfilling this objective. The preparations for Gibraltar’s match against the Republic of Ireland provided some key pointers, especially with respect to Gibraltar’s lack of attempts at goal and the vulnerabilities in defense that had allowed the hosts to score four goals in twenty minutes.
The questions remained over whether Gibraltar’s very defensive posture which provides little opportunity to score relying mainly on the one player to hold the ball upfront was an effective way of going forward. The defeat against Wales further adding to the critics.