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Gibraltar U21 Outplayed by Sweden U21 in Disappointing 5-0 Defeat

On a muggy June day with a 5pm kick-off, Gibraltar U21 faced Sweden U21 at the Victoria Stadium. The match took place on Gibraltar’s first King’s birthday Bank holiday, adding to the festive atmosphere. However, expectations were low for a strong turnout in the west stands, as schools were closed, and the usual boisterous school children were absent. They were to be missed by both players and the small number of fans that had turned out, with the stands relatively silent.

Gibraltar U21, coming off a 3-1 defeat against Moldova, had a point to prove and work to do. The selection of the starting eleven raised some eyebrows, with notable players like Del Rio relegated to the bench. Meanwhile, Sweden U21 had yet to play their first group stage match. Their previous matches in March saw them draw against Colombia U21 and secure a 2-3 away victory against Scotland U21, indicating their strength.

Gibraltar U21 was still in the process of development, with vulnerabilities in their defense that had previously let them down. Bradley Avellano started the game in goal, replacing Harry Victor, who had a commendable performance against Moldova but was let down by the defense. Avellano was to prove himself as the day’s man of the match for Gibraltar with a string of great saves.

The teams lined up with different formations, with Sweden opting for a confident 3-4-3 formation and Gibraltar going with a more traditional 4-4-2 setup. Borge and Livingstone led the attack for Gibraltar, although Jessop had shown his ability to take on defenses in the previous match against Moldova. Victor Ochello, however, had to reshape his midfield as gap opened when Sweden attacked with defenders going forward too.

Before the match began, a new song collaboration between Melon Diesel and the Gibraltar FA, titled “Stand Up With Me,” was revealed. This rocky anthem had the hope that it would become Gibraltar’s new football anthem. Especially with the fans who are known to chant “Bota Bota” as a call to action.

The coach listed on the team sheet was Felices, but it was Ochello who shook hands with the Swedish coach, clearly showing who was leading the Gibraltar U21 team.

Sweden wasted no time asserting their strength, forcing Bradley Avellano into a spectacular save onto the crossbar just one minute into the match. They quickly earned a second corner shortly after. Gibraltar’s defense struggled to settle, while Sweden played with urgency, continuously opening up gaps to shoot.

In the fourth minute, Gigovic drove the ball over the bar from close range, showing Sweden attacking intent. Seven minutes later, it was the home sides turn as Gibraltar played down the wing, and Stevens unleashed a shot that forced a save from the Swedish goalkeeper. The low-driven shot sliced through the defense, requiring the keeper to punch it out.

Gibraltar gradually settled into the game within the first ten minutes, becoming more assertive in their attacks. Sweden found themselves on the back foot, with Jessop providing support to Borge. The Swedish players already needed water breaks and treatment for injuries, demonstrating the intensity of the match and how the heat was taking its effect on play.

With Svenson advancing, Sweden exploited gaps on Gibraltar’s right side, providing opportunities for attacks. However, Gibraltar closed ranks and presented a red brick wall in front of their penalty area whenever Sweden advanced.

Despite Gibraltar’s defensive efforts, Sweden managed to score the opening goal on the 20th minute. Prica collected the ball inside the penalty area and struck it past defenders, squeezing it close to the post, leaving Avellano with no chance.

Sweden immediately launched another attack after scoring, applying pressure on Gibraltar’s goal. Avellano continued to be the hero of the day, making remarkable saves and receiving applause from the small crowd.

Gibraltar started to show more confidence, trying to find their way into Sweden’s half rather than sitting back and waiting. Steven’s cross found Livingston’s head, but the header went wide, denying Gibraltar an equalizer on the half-hour mark.

Clinton tested Sweden’s defense on the 33rd minute, dribbling past two defenders and delivering a floated cross that challenged the central defenders. Gibraltar’s lines advanced, but they were lucky not to concede a second goal when a header hit the post. The defenders made a crucial clearance on the goal line to temporarily alleviate the danger.

Avellano required treatment after making a full stretch save, feeling the effects of his acrobatic effort. Gibraltar closed down their ranks as they approached the final five minutes of the first half.

Just before halftime, Villa was penalized for a late challenge near the left side of the defensive box. The ensuing free kick struck the post with great venom. Six minutes of injury time were added, and both teams began to show signs of exhaustion due to the heat. Gibraltar managed to hold their ground and finished the first half with only a solitary goal against them.

The second half began similarly to how the first half had ended. Sweden held possession, but Gibraltar aimed to find a way forward. Del Rio’s entrance provided a new dynamic, but it was Gibraltar’s composed formation that was winning the battle, at least for the first part of the second half.

Gibraltar suffered a setback when they gave away a penalty unnecessarily. Bardghji, put off by Avellano’s movement, kicked the ball over the bar, squandering an opportunity to equalize.

Jessop, Livingston, and Borge combined well to create opportunities, but Sweden struggled to find a breakthrough despite their dominance in possession. Another water break occurred in the second half, and Villa was replaced due to an injury, with Laguea taking his place.

On the 70th minute, Avellano miraculously blocked a shot from close range, sending it onto the crossbar. The defense scrambled to clear the ball, and Gibraltar survived another scare. Sweden continued to press forward, with Gibraltar defending deep and finding it increasingly difficult to create meaningful attacks.

Avellano required treatment once again on the 75th minute, having gone through an arduous battle with his numerous interventions. The Swedish technical bench expressed their frustration at the keeper’s repeated visits to the ground.

On the 77th minute, Hasic caught Gibraltar’s defense off guard with a corner to the near post, flicking the ball goalwards for Sweden’s second goal. Gibraltar tried to respond but was forced to shoot from long range, often having to backtrack defensively.

Ayari delivered the final blow for Sweden on the 83rd minute with a lobbed volley into the top corner, leaving Avellano stretching but unable to reach the ball. As the match entered its final seven minutes, Gibraltar found themselves trailing 3-0.

Sweden earned a corner with just five minutes left on the clock. They capitalized on their dominance and added a fourth goal to their tally, putting the game beyond Gibraltar’s reach. The fourth official signaled five minutes of injury time.

In the dying minutes, Sweden scored their fifth goal, further asserting their dominance on the field. Gibraltar had no response, and the match ended with a disappointing 5-0 defeat for the home team.

Sweden had taken control of the game in the final quarter, showcasing their prowess and finishing with a resounding victory. Gibraltar U21 will need to regroup and address their defensive vulnerabilities before their next match.

Despite the defeat, the Gibraltar fans remained resilient, hoping for a better performance in the future. The team will need to analyze their weaknesses and work on their strategies to bounce back in the upcoming fixtures.

Images courtesy Gibraltar FA

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