Gibraltar U17s produced confident display that took game to Belgium even in defeat
Gibraltar's Under-17s produced a surprising performance, holding favorites Belgium to just two goals throughout the ninety minutes in their first match of the Under-17s group matches played in Wales. Only conceding a final two in injury times.
The group matches, initially scheduled to be played in Israel last month, were postponed and relocated to Wales following the war between Israel and Hamas. A last-minute change saw Israel withdrawing this week, leaving Belgium and Wales as Gibraltar's only opponents.
In the first match this Wednesday evening, Gibraltar's Under-17s produced a noteworthy, confident performance, even though finishing in defeat. Gibraltar found themselves on the backfoot early in the match, with keeper Recagno touching the ball several times in the first three minutes. Defending deep, Gibraltar had to clear from deep, with long balls forward often intercepted by Belgium's advanced defense.
Gibraltar's youngsters, however, showed something other, more senior teams had lacked from early on – a willingness to attack their opponents. On the fifth minute, Gibraltar forced Belgium to chase after a long ball, letting Bartolo go on a chase for the ball. Belgium's keeper was forced to clear his lines with his feet.
Gibraltar's defense also showed good composure at times when in possession, with a string of short passes keeping possession and menacingly advancing their lines. The reliance on long ball clearances was not as evident as in other national team performances at higher levels. Recagno was kept busy with interventions and pass-backs as Gibraltar closed down a dominant Belgium side.
Gibraltar nearly surprised on the fifteenth minute, weaving their way into the penalty box and seeing an attempt at goal diverted to a corner with a last-minute challenge from defenders. The breakaway sent a clear signal that Gibraltar's Under-17s had no intention of just sitting back and watching Belgium run the match.
Gibraltar earned themselves a corner on the twentieth minute after weathering another of Belgium's surges forward. Showing confidence and physical aggression on the field allowed Gibraltar to make life difficult for Belgium, who celebrated scoring their first goal with quite some enthusiasm on the 21st minute.
Gibraltar's defense was unable to stop a breakaway and a final shot that saw the ball stopped on the line but falling at the feet of an oncoming player who just needed to tap it in. Belgium, buoyed by the goal, immediately set off to attack Gibraltar's goal. Gibraltar's Under-17s kept their composure and managed to limit Belgium's offense, starting momentarily to take the game to their opponents – a confidence across the field lacking in some respects in other national sides.
More than willing to press higher up the field, the expected barrage of Belgium attempts did not materialize, although Gibraltar conceded a second on the half-hour mark. Belgium made use of some of the space left available to them from playing a wider and higher field than sitting the bus in front of goal.
Although Belgium had greater possession and was most likely to score again, Gibraltar left a good impression in the first half, with its frontline players more than willing to challenge even the goalkeeper for the ball in numbers. At one time, two Gibraltar players put pressure on Belgium's goalkeeper following a backpass.
This saw Belgium having to keep vigilance at the back and reducing their options, something that played in Gibraltar's favor as they maintained themselves in the match. The latter minutes of the first half saw Gibraltar forced to defend very deep, but maintaining their composure and resilience, they managed to keep Belgium from scoring, going into the halftime break with Belgium in the lead by 2-0.
Gibraltar started with some confidence, passing the ball and looking to take the game to Belgium when in possession. Keeping to their game, Belgium struggled in the early minutes of the second half to push Gibraltar back into their box, as they had in the latter part of the first half.
On the 62nd minute, Gibraltar had another great chance with another long ball breaking Belgium's defense and forcing their keeper to step out to block an attempt at goal. Gibraltar's confidence grew by the minute, limiting Belgium's chances while creating their own.
Their resilience saw them take Belgium into the final five minutes with just two goals conceded. Belgium tried to up the pressure in the final minutes, seeing themselves with what was a surprising scoreline for many. However, this only highlighted the great effort Gibraltar's Under-17s had produced throughout the match across the whole field.
Gibraltar deservedly held on and should have walked away with their heads held high. However, tired legs and a four minute injury time allowed Belgium to produce a flattering scoreline as Gibraltar conceded a final two goals. It was no surprise Belgium celebrated as if they had won a cup final such had been the pressure placed on them by minnows from Gibraltar.
Gibraltar players walked away with sunken heads as they felt the undeserved 4-0 scoreline defeat, although their confidence and performance would have left many praising their efforts and determination not to allow Belgium to dictate the game throughout.