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Gibraltar netball wins Division Two title

Gibraltar 46-30 France

Gibraltar took gold in the Europe Netball Division Two with a determined performance that saw them beat France in the first and second place play-off on Sunday. Gibraltar entered their final match of the Europe Netball competition aiming for first place against France.

Although they had been beaten by France in the first match, Gibraltar made a great comeback and the players responded with determination. They entered the match as the underdogs, but with the grit and mentality that showed they were tough opposition. They did not disappoint, demonstrating that Thursday’s defeat was just a blip in their campaign.

A great start from Pozo, who sighted the ball early, saw Gibraltar take an early lead. Turning it over after France missed their opportunity, Gibraltar went two ahead through Ruiz, winning their third through hard work from their center pass.

The nerves that Gibraltar had struggled with in the first match against France were not as apparent in this match. Gibraltar took advantage of France’s slow start, adding points and going five points ahead with no response from France in the first four minutes. Gibraltar were 5-1 ahead after the first five minutes and were unfazed by France scoring, responding in kind. They then turned over France’s center pass, and with Ruiz calm and composed under the hoop, they went 7-1 ahead. Still, nine minutes into the first quarter.

Gibraltar maintained their pace and, unlike the first match, were in constant movement from the start with quick passing. They led by 8-1 and forced France into mid-range shots, which favored Gibraltar’s defense. Heading into a 9-1 lead, Gibraltar’s tactical play reduced the influence of key French players, and France had only scored twice in eight minutes of play. Gibraltar extended their lead to 10-2 with five minutes left.

France did not score again until five minutes from the end of the quarter, adding a fourth moment later as they started to regain some confidence and play around Gibraltar’s tactical game. Gibraltar became a bit scrappy in their play in the final four minutes of the quarter, allowing France to gain some ground. However, good defensive work from Ocana and Hartman put France’s shooters off enough to deny them from adding to their tally before Gibraltar scored their eleventh with two minutes left in the quarter.

Gibraltar turned the match in their favor and were already causing a stir with the initial result very much against all forecasts. At 12-6 with a minute left before the end of the first quarter, this was a confidence-boosting display erasing all memory of the first encounter between the two sides earlier in the competition. The first quarter finished 13-6, setting a positive tone for Gibraltar.

The importance of Gibraltar’s reliance on performance analysis during the tournament was evident in the early part of the match, with Gibraltar getting their first point straight from a center pass start, something they had failed to do at times in their first match. This kept the pressure on France, who were 15-7 behind after just a few minutes of play but still considered the favorites and threatening a comeback.

Changes with Ocana stepping forward while Hartman took up the role of goalkeeper provided a new dimension through the middle, giving Gibraltar some energy although France were also gaining momentum. After five minutes of the second quarter, the score was 18-10. Gibraltar maintained their momentum and points difference, with France matching them point for point.

Ruiz and Pozo, who had entered the senior team as main shooters through the player pathway, showed the composure and focus that earned them their places. Gibraltar stepped up and went to a 22-10 lead with seven minutes left in the quarter. France’s comeback did not materialize as expected, mainly due to Gibraltar’s effective rotation of players and well-drilled tactics countering France’s strengths.

Some superb interceptions by Hartman reduced France's shooting opportunities before they even received the ball, allowing Gibraltar to add to their tally and increase their lead to 13, going 23-10 ahead. Gibraltar stalled France offensively and extended their lead to 25-10 before France scored their eleventh point. Ocana, once hailed as one of the best defensive players in the competition alongside Byrony Rovengo, made her return to full internationals now as a goal defender partnering with Hartman, demonstrating Gibraltar’s seamless player development.

Gibraltar headed into the halftime break with a fourteen-point lead, 26-12. Maintaining consistent scoring in both the first and second quarters, they started the third quarter by scoring straight from their center pass, another strong start indicating their intent. France responded, showing they were still in the game and aiming for a comeback.

Gibraltar made it 29-13 after just three minutes, with Pozo and Ruiz displaying a strong connection. The Moreno sisters worked industriously through the center, acting as the main engine for the team, leading Gibraltar to a 32-15 lead. Hartman and Ocana swapped roles again as France also made player changes.

France added to their tally, making it 33-19, but this was still far from enough to significantly impact Gibraltar’s lead. France signaled they were looking to make a comeback and were not giving up while there was still time to turn the score around. Gibraltar momentarily dropped their momentum, allowing France to claw back points, reaching 34-20 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Gibraltar then sparked back into action, rebuilding their lead to 35-20.

After four days of play, tired legs were apparent on both sides, impacting the game’s fluidity. Entering the final minute of the third quarter, Gibraltar maintained a fifteen-point lead at 37-22. Gritty work from Ocana in defense allowed Gibraltar to step forward again, though Mena, who had just come on, was unable to add her first point. The score at the end of the third quarter was 37-22, with Gibraltar edging France by a solitary point, 11-10, in the quarter.

Gibraltar stuck to their tasks, opening the scoring in the fourth quarter as they had done in all other quarters, with France responding almost immediately. The pressure was now on France, needing to overcome a 15-point difference in a game where they had not outscored Gibraltar in the previous three quarters.

Gibraltar focused on their defensive game, and each point scored further dented France’s ambitions. With the first five minutes of the fourth quarter played, the score was 40-25, with France making little headway. France’s errors in attack and offensive contacts allowed Gibraltar to continue adding pressure. Although Gibraltar failed to score on some occasions, the seconds wasted by France played into Gibraltar’s hands.

Bringing Hernandez back on, Gibraltar kept rotating players and denying France opportunities. Midway through the quarter, with a low-scoring period, Gibraltar led 42-26, not what France had hoped for. A return of Pozo as goal shooter reenergized the front line, and with Anna Hernandez coming on for Janice Moreno, the dynamics of the Gibraltar team changed. The added energy in the final five minutes saw Gibraltar lead 44-28.

In an intense final three minutes, play was mainly through the middle with limited scoring chances at either end. Gibraltar saw their tally go to 46-29. The score did not move until the final minute, when France added to their tally, achieving a respectable 30 points.

Gibraltar finished with a 46-30 victory, taking the second division title.

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