Gibraltar not ready to concede heavy defeats
Match report on Kosovo v Gibraltar as appeared on Saturday's print edition:-
A solitary goal separated the two teams who had entered FIFA together in 2016 as Kosovo beat Gibraltar 1-0 on Thursday evening. The full international friendly once again brought to the forefront Gibraltar’s sensational transformation from a side facing heavy defeats to one unwilling to allow such scores to repeat themselves.
Kosovo might have been a late arrival into the FIFA ranks; however, their form had seen the rise through the ranks to hold the 130th ranked position under FIFA listings. Since 2018 they had only lost to England, conceding five whilst putting three past them. Score draws against the likes of Denmark, Montenegro, Faroe Islands and Bulgaria were also supported by comprehensive wins against Malta, Azerbajan, Czech Republic and Bulgaria. All during the past year.
With a squad fielding player from Nottingham Forest, Swansea, Torino, Standard Leige, Werver Bremen, Sheffield Wednesday. Huddersfield and Lazio among a host of other well-known names, Kosovo presented themselves as the favorites to win. Many pundits predicting before the match a heavy defeat upon Gibraltar due to Kosovo’s well-known tendency to attack their opponents.
They were, however, stunned on the night when Gibraltar once again demonstrated that there was a new belief among the players that they could do more than just surrender to the supposed “inevitable defeats.”
Gibraltar’s head coach, Julio Ribas, was to provide the first indication of this when before the match he repeated how his team “played every match as if it were a world cup final.”
He was also to show that whilst he remained loyal to his core squad, providing them with the international experience and caps that he hopes will take them to another level, he was also willing to tinker with the selection.
This was to be Lynx’s captain Mohammed Badr’s international debut. Only just made eligible to play for Gibraltar having received his British Overseas Territories citizenship days before selection the Egyptian-born player was among the first eleven for Gibraltar.
Also starting was Ayem Mouelhi, a Tunisian-born defender presently playing for St Joseph’s who also held British Overseas Territories citizenship adopting Gibraltar as his home.
Ribas was also to see the return of his legend in Lee Casciaro. His inclusion alongside that of Tjay De Barr and Badr across midfield was to add that extra edge within the centre of the park for Gibraltar which had recently failed them. The three players known for their 90-minute flat-out ratio of play and aggressiveness in retrieving balls provided Gibraltar with an advance defensive line which was capable of also turn into offense and supplying Anthony Hernandez who had been moved up front.
Gibraltar already had lost Louie Annesley’s service, after he was dropped due to injury. Yet he was not to be missed as Gibraltar’s defensive posture proved to be effective during the ninety minutes.
Julio Ribas had the main core of players he had been using since his arrival. Building experience and confidence among them.
Playing in a half full stadium the presence of Gibraltar had not seemed to attract the attention of Kosovo’s fans.
Kosovo started by controlling possession with Gibraltar settling into their positions as the first hints of what was to come emerged.
Some neat footwork by Anthony Hernandez with a short string of passes forced Kosovo back within the first five minutes as Gibraltar took the opportunity to show they should not be underestimated so soon in the match.
The first minutes had some encouraging moments for Gibraltar as they moved the ball around going forward.
Although missing Liam Walker, who was on the bench, Gibraltar’s midfield was presenting themselves as more than willing to get stuck in and move the ball around.
Hernandez had the first shot at goal after ten minutes. His shot though not well struck and somewhat of a wasted opportunity.
Kosovo had a chance on 13th minute when both Sergeant and Badr were beaten on the run. Kosovo’s strike was, fortunately for Gibraltar, struck well over the bar.
The host started to press Gibraltar more stepping up their game. Well placed on the pitch Gibraltar defended. They were lucky not to be penalised when a long-lobbed ball into the penalty area left a Kosovo player inexplicably totally unmarked. The players claiming offside allowing him to try and take a shot which was luckily directed straight into Chino’s arms.
The presence of Badr, De Barr and Casciaro in midfield added strong runners in midfield who supported the defence against Kosovo’s constant prodding.
Kosovo were to win a free kick on the 28th just outside the penalty area after a strong challenge which once against Gibraltar was lucky not to be penalised further for. The free kick flew over the cross bar, but this was a warning to the defence that whilst showing an uncharacteristic and sometimes welcome tendency to get stuck in, they needed to be wary of falling foul in dangerous areas.
Gibraltar was to meet its first concerns over its keepers when Chino took a tumble on the half hour as he came out to clear inside penalty area and colliding with a steamrolling Kosovo forward stayed on the ground. Chino was to get back on his feet but was to be substituted at half time.
Captain Roy Chipolina also played a key role as he wielded his iron fist command across his defence after several badly cleared crosses allowed Kosovo to shoot on goal.
Gibraltar was to get its own opportunity when Joseph Chipolina just after the half hour mark put Anthony Hernandez through on goal. The latter was unable to dig deep enough under the ball for the necessary chip over the Kosovan keeper who was well out of his goal.
Joseph Chipolina was to play a key role just two minutes later at the back when he cleared with his head a shot to goal that looked as if it might have had Chino beaten.
With Kosovo controlling possession Gibraltar tried to slow the pace whenever they had the
ball. As they match reached the final minutes of the first half the crowd was silenced.
Gibraltar keeping their goal clear and had arrived at half time with the score still at 0-0.
The break brought about a change in keepers with Coleing taking goal for Chino. He was in action within seconds having to dive at feet of an oncoming Kosovan attack. He was soon show also he intended to command his penalty area going out for the ball close to edge of the box.
Coleing’s presence on the field was not to last long. Injury seeing him substituted later.
Gibraltar were holding on and should have been awarded a penalty when Anthony Hernandez tumbled inside the Kosovo penalty area. However, they were instead feeling the power and frustrations of the Kosovans. Joseph Chipolina having to momentarily limp off the field with clear stud marks by his ankles.
Gibraltar was also tempting fate with some naïve defensive clearance at times that were giving the ball away far too easily. Lucky for Gibraltar Kosovo’s early attempts at shots from afar were well off target.
Ribas was to make several changes with Casciaro and Britto coming off. Andrew Hernandez, Pons and Coombes coming on.
Within minutes of the changes the deadlock was broken as Kosovo scored through a string of bad clearances and a deflection which had Coleing scrambling to his far post and unable to reach the ball as it flew in low.
This was Coleing’s last real action as moments later he called for a change after his hamstring injury re-emerged. Matt Cafer taking up his place as Gibraltar found themselves playing all their three goalkeepers.
The goal had lifted the Kosovan crowds who were now breathing a sigh of relief.
Gibraltar had held them for over an hour and did not look at giving Kosovo any further breathing space from which they could add to their solitary goal.
Ethan Jolley was also to come on as Ribas tested his squad prior to their next match on Tuesday against Georgia.
Cafer in his fist touch produced a dive to save a low driven half shot to goal which threatened also to reach oncoming players through the middle.
Gibraltar did not weaken it is resolve in defence as they absorbed Kosovo’s onslaught.
Badr debut was to end negatively as he took a blow to the chest that needed treatment off the field following a crunching collision with one of the Kosovan’s big forwards.
Battered and tired Gibraltar were forced to play five extra minutes with the additional injury time again. They were to keep their composure. The silence of the Kosovo fans at the final whistle showing how Gibraltar had managed to keep the score to just a solitary goal against them. A clear signal they were more than willing to battle it out and not concede heavy defeats as they had in the past.
Whilst there were critics out over Gibraltar’s performance officials maintained their stance that Gibraltar was proving itself to be developing fast.
Although not a pretty game, Gibraltar’s focus throughout the ninety minutes had once again yielded what was described by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo as a “presentable” result. Although having faced a further defeated, and not having scored during the past seven internationals, Gibraltar had only conceded one solitary goal against the same side that had succeeded in scoring three times against England.