Gibraltar futsal demonstrates what its like to play at home after successful Futsal Euro hosting
As the chilled blue sky Saturday saw Main Street entering its normal bustle a team of blue track-suited men strolled from shop to shop taking in the tourist aspect of Gibraltar. These were the Montenegro futsal squad, relaxing before they ventured onto the playing field at the Tercentenary Sports Hall. They were Gibraltar’s first ever international competitive opponents to take on Gibraltar on home soil.
Gibraltar in the meantime took in their last training session. On the back scene another set of blue track-suited men and women hurried about preparing the venue. These were GFA staff who from early morning were ensuring that everything that was required on the day was ready. From water bottles to towels, to tables and chairs.
For the first time the Gibraltar Football Association was able to organise an international competitive home match without having to travel 400kms abroad. There was a more relaxed mood to everything, more confidence that things would be completed on time. A scenario the GFA was itself not expecting to enjoy with other international qualifier matches in the senior and youth categories eleven aside as it waited for a decision on whether the football pitch would be resurfaced or not after the latest announcement of a concert on the same day as an international match.
As the afternoon approached, and with the politics of the game set to one side, the only thing left to ponder on was whether the fans would turn out. As a UEFA delegate went about checking the venue, even taking photos of tables with media, what was to be a small crowd started to turn up.
The big occasion was not to see the big crowd everyone had hoped for. A half full sports hall saw most of the furthest part of the stand empty. Some 400 people had turned up, but not enough to fill up a stand that could take twice the number. Gibraltar’s football enthusiasts had not turned out in as high a numbers as would have been wished.
It was a big occasion though for the Gibraltar futsal squad, one which showed in the first half of the match against Montenegro. The crowd in itself was probably among the biggest squad members had enjoyed in many years.
The differences in play between both sides were evident from the start. The warm-up itself saw Montenegro powering away. Something they were to do from the kick off as the officials started the match.
Montenegro did not take long to go ahead. Within the first ten minutes on the clock Gibraltar were already trailing 4-0.
Gibraltar’s opponents were attacking every ball, pressing every area of the pitch as they took advantage of Gibraltar’s nerves. Failed short passes, ineffective surges forward and a very defensively minded game plan, lacking in aggression from Gibraltar saw them with their backs to the wall. The crowd’s silence making Gibraltar’s nerves more evident.
It was not until El Andaloussi climbed higher than Montenegro’s keeper to flick a long ball forward over him for Gibraltar’s goal that Gibraltar did not spark into action.
A belief that they could actually cause some damage to the Montenegrans seemed to emerge.
As the tackling became more aggressive Gibraltar conceded one more goal before the end of the half, but had stopped the flow of goals.
Montenegro were by far the stronger of the two. Their experience showing as they controlled their passing game, moving the ball fast across the pitch forcing Gibraltar to defend deep.
The second half saw Gibraltar enter the match with greater spirit and determination. An early goal from Montenegro seemed to spur Gibraltar on instead of deflate them. Crunching tackles, hassling for the ball, and pressing hard were the order of the day as Gibraltar tried to regain possession of the ball.
Some spectacular goalkeeping heroic from Navarro ensured that Montenegro struggled to score.
Gibraltar, who in a previous international against Switzerland had failed to shoot at goal in their first game, were not to parallel that day.
The two saves by the Montenegro keeper in the first half were doubled in the second half as Gibraltar tried their luck. Two clear opportunities to add to their one goal tally also went to waste as nerves seemed to get the better of the players when they went for the final strike. Gibraltar were nevertheless showing that they could compete against Montenegro and gave them a match to play for.
Gibraltar conceded a further two goals in the second half going 8-1 down but their performance in the second half was one which many a fan enjoyed seeing as Gibraltar went head to head with Montenegro when the match seemed to be heading for a heavy double figured defeat.
The fans might have filed out having watched a defeat against Gibraltar but some pride had been restored before their home crowd with their performance at the end.
The fans had also warmed up. Initially silent, as the tackles went in, the blocks pulled off the crowds rose to the occasion cheering their players on. Anger was also echoed across the hall as Montenegro’s keeper seemed to punch a Gibraltar player only to receive a yellow card for his action. The contact with the face was met by mere vocals from the player when other players would have sprawled onto the ground. Gibraltar’s innocence in international football was still clear to see, yet there had been some glimmer of hope for the future which Gibraltar hoped to captilaise on against Sweden on Monday.
Saturday’s match was to lead the official pages of UEFA Futsal Euro with the front page depicting one of the images from the match. Gibraltar once again receiving a high exposure by UEFA before the millions of football enthusiast and media that use their official website.
Sunday evening set the scene with an exciting match between Montenegro and Sweden. Montenegro did not seem as if they could win the match, but a misfiring Sweden panicked when 4-1 down and put in a fly-keeper which saw them go down 11-4 in the end.
With Gibraltar and Sweden equal in points and goal difference this was Gibraltar’s opportunity to get a result.
The last match of the Futsal Euro group ended as the most exciting and one which Gibraltar could be proud of.
Lopez started the day off for Gibraltar on a good footing with a lobbed volley over the keeper to put Gibraltar in the lead. Buoyed by the goal Gibraltar seemed more aggressive and determined than ever to produce a result. Even when they conceded the equaliser on the fourth minute Gibraltar did not relent from going for goal when they could.
Sweden were vastly superior in possession and were moving the ball around fast. However, a well disciplined Gibraltar kept their heads and stuck to their task to keep them out and break fast.
To the delight of the home crowd, who was warming up to the efforts of the national team Gibraltar ended the first half equal in goals.
The second half saw one of Gibraltar’s continued problems at all levels of international football. A lack of focus within the first few seconds saw Sweden go ahead for the first time.
Gibraltar still maintained their lines and started to produce their own chances. Just as Gibraltar seemed the most certain to score. An overhead kick just scrapping the bar, a post, two consecutive saves from the Swedish keeper and a handful of off target shots could do nothing to stop Sweden taking an easy chance.
Gibraltar had held for 36 of the official minutes and were to find themselves dropping their heads as they conceded the third.
A sudden lack of belief emerged as they conceded again and again one minute after the other to go 5-1 down. With nothing to lose Gibraltar tried to pull one back but it was not to be.
To a standing ovation and chants of “GFA, GFA” the Gibraltar national squad ended their three day international UEFA adventure. For many a dream come true playing at this level of the game.
The importance of playing matches at home had been demonstrated as young children led the singing in the stands throughout the match. Even though the stands had not been filled throughout the weekend, the over 400-500 crowd that had attended the second match saw many a young child joining in the excitement of cheering for their country as they aimed to get a result. Joys and disappointments were shared. The team itself seemed to rise to the occasion playing with greater determination before its home crowd.
Many an observer also pointed out the importance of young players getting to know the sport from watching it in person at this level. Especially at a time when Gibraltar’s football is looking to progress into a new era. The hopes of becoming a source of employment for young players very much in many people’s minds. The hopes could as yet still not be fulfilled in other areas of the same sport as football faces the prospect of continuing to play its home international and European club matches away from home if FIFA, as expected, withdraw from funding the resurfacing of the football pitch.
Futsal Euro was a taster of what Gibraltar could host, and a clear indication that it has the capabilities of hosting events at this level of football with ease.