Gibraltar upset the odds with the narrowest of defeats
It was three hours before kick-off and the temperature started to rise. Police deployments across Casemates, Bayside Road and the marinas were the first signs that Gibraltar had entered the countdown to kick-off.
There was initial doubt on whether Casemates would fill up as expected. Only a trickle of the same 2500 fans thought to be in the area had trickled down into the main fan Zone areas. The green and Orange army, however, were transforming the marinas as the pubs filled to watch the large screens “this is probably the first time there will be more fans outside than inside,” mused one of the international reporters that had arrived on the Rock.
Gibraltar arrived after the Republic of Ireland at the stadium . The latter had arrived with their police escort. A vast contrast to the home side.
A relaxed Gibraltar team ventured onto the field to get accustomed to the atmosphere and take it in.
There was little change in the line-up. Ribas had kept faith in his first eleven.
With Goldwin as his number one keeper.
The only big change was the presence of Louie Annesley alongside captain Roy Chipolina. The youngster who had just joined Blackburn Rovers was to start for Gibraltar.
With Barnett, Mouelhi and Pons on the bench.
Ribas had also maintained his trust in both his oldest and youngest forwards with both Lee Casciaro and Tjay de Barr starting.
Ribas showed again he was looking to develop a squad into the future with four players in his first eleven capable of playing in an under 21 squad. While still keeping the experience of players such as Joseph Chipolina. A player whose long throw had been mentioned by Ireland as head coach Mick McCarthy the previous day as something to watch out for.
The Irish fans began to arrive at the stadium early, just as the Gibraltar team came out to warm up. As the Republic of Ireland came out the few Irish fans who had arrived showed why they were there.
The Victoria stadium was living on other historic moment with the first Euro qualifier to be played on home soil since joining UEFA.
There had been a lot of ticks to a checklist that the GFA had to meet even just hours before the match. But they did so.
Just minutes before kickoff Mick McCarthy got his wish, this was one of the ticks to the checklist as grounds men walked onto the pitch to water the ‘plastic’ pitch as the Irish media had described it.
Gibraltar was, however, still playing out its role of party spoilers. From the start they showed they were doing it their way. Against advise ‘not to’ the Gibraltar squad turned to face the Rock during the national anthems even though it would likely lead to further problems with officials, especially those most concerned on the fact the match was live on television.
Gibraltar was to play out a performance which left Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy claiming that ‘everything had been set up for an upset.’
A solitary goal was to mark the difference between Gibraltar and the Republic of Ireland.
It could also have been very different on the day. Just minutes into the second half, after Gibraltar had kept the score goalless, Roy Chipolina had climbed well to header down a corner only to see a brilliant save turn the ball around for a corner. It was the subsequent play that provided Ireland with their goal.
This time it was Roy unable to stop a darting run that let the ball get crossed low for Hendrick to score.
The Irish fans who had been constantly behind their side roared in jubilation. However, they were not to get much more pleasure from their side.
Just fourteen attempts, with just six on target was not the type of performance they had expected. Instead it was Gibraltar that came out head and shoulders above their opponents, prompting Mick McCarthy to claim that “he hoped they play the same against other teams.”
Reporters who had suggested the day before this was going to be an easy win now asked Julio Ribas whether he believed they could get points from other teams.
Gibraltar’s well composed and resolute performance had not only managed to stall Ireland’s play but had also seen them at times controlling the pace of possession. Themselves having a few chances to score.
Gibraltar who had seen many believe were an easy game had shown to be quite the opposite. “It’s supposed to be easy coming here, but you have seen it is not easy”
McCarthy commented at a press conference later. Showing how he believed the pitch and conditions had not helped he nevertheless praised Gibraltar describing them as a “brilliant team with a lot of determination.”
It was Julio Ribas, Gibraltar’s head coach who highlighted how things had changed since they last played the Republic of Ireland.
After conceding eleven goals in two matches anyone would have believed a 1-0 defeat would have pleased him.
It was his players performance, especially the emerging youngster he heaped praise on, yet he repeated on several occasions “how this was not the result he would have wanted.”
“I am not happy with the result bur we have to recognize they are a good team.”
Gibraltar had turned another page in its Football history book. Importantly it hosted the match on home soil something Ribas pointed out was due to the hard work put in by the Gibraltar FA executive who he indicated had worked tirelessly to ensure they played in Gibraltar.
The 4,000 Irish fans descending on Gibraltar did not quite materialise, half that number turning up in Gibraltar. Just 400 reported at Ocean village, with another 100 plus at Casemates Square adding to the 720 tickets sold. However, by the end of the match the only trouble reported were a couple of drunken people arrested and some fans stopped from unfurling a protest banner against their own FA from among the Irish fans on the East stand. Fans had mingled well and there had been co-operation between Gibraltar and Irish police forces.
Gibraltar now heads to their international friendly against Estonia which is likely to be anything but friendly considering Estonia’s defeat this week and Gibraltar’s intend on spoiling the party for those who still think they are an easy team to beat.
Photo by Johnny Bugeja. Full match report in print and e-edition on Monday