Gibraltar women’s Futsal showed they were there to win not just make up the numbers
Gibraltar 3-3 Belgium AET
Belgium win on penalties
As Gibraltar’s women’s Futsal national squad walked out onto the court at the Tercentenary Sports Hall on Wednesday Gibraltar added another page in its football history book. Gibraltar was playing for the first time in its football/futsal history a competitive UEFA international match. This was the first time that Gibraltar entered the UEFA Futsal Euros Preliminary Round. Although it has initially been scheduled to be played as a group qualifier with Belgium and Kazahkstan as opponents, the departure of the latter from the group meant that Gibraltar’s match against Belgium became a knock-out contest. The winner would go onto the next phase of the competition.
With Belgium as the favorites already boasting its own well established league with numerous teams participating and with much wider international experience among its players Belgium ticked all the right boxes to expect them to just ease through the match.
Yet what those who had never actually followed Gibraltar women’s football were not to count on was that Gibraltar, as one fan said on her placard “was there not to just play but was there to win.”
The Tercentenary Sports Hall was a cauldron of noise as Gibraltar’s very young national team stepped out onto the court. Slowly the numbers had been rising from 300 just half and hour before kick off to just under 600 just moments after kick off.
Parents, families and friends were joined by young fans, young players even parts of the men’s senior Gibraltar national team, some of whom where playing that same evening on the Main pitch and wondered into the sports hall to provide their support.
Young children, with many of the young youth female players now playing across the leagues turned up to watch along with hockey teams, netball teams and basketball teams whose colleagues were representing Gibraltar on the day.
The young Gibraltar squad, as everyone present knew, had not had much experience on the international stage. Except for a couple international futsal matches against Northern Ireland a couple of years earlier and a handful of appearances in UEFA development tournaments Gibraltar’s women’s football as a whole had very little experience on the international stage, as opposed to their opponents.
Gibraltar was untested at this level of international football, it was also an unknown quantity for its opponents, but importantly it was hungry to prove it deserved the chance to play at this level.
Things did not start well for Gibraltar as Belgium seemed to be ticking the boxes which many believed they would.
Early first half goals put them in the lead with Gibraltar looking nervous and cagey in their approach.
Things started to change as Gibraltar’s players started to move the ball about more freely and had chances of their own.
As the players gained confidence, not just among the starting five but also those who were rotating in the substitutions, Gibraltar took control of the match with the close to 600-strong crowd standing firmly behind them.
Tiffany Viagas was the first to add that additional page in Gibraltar history book, a book which would grow by at least a chapter by the time the match finished. A goal on the tenth minute of the first half made her the first player to score an international competitive goal for Gibraltar women’s Futsal.
It took Belgium some time before they were to get an opportunity at scoring with Caitlin Robba well up to the challenge.
The strong character and determination shown by the Gibraltar side on the field which pushed Belgium back onto their half for better parts of the first half provided an added confidence which resonated across the stands as the Tercentenary Sports Hall build up the ambience of a cup final.
The buzz was to cool down as Gibraltar took to the court for the second half. Pulling back and sitting back instead of maintaining their momentum it seemed as if Belgium could once again take control of the match as they had early in the first half.
Gibraltar absorbed well the pressure they seemed to be placing on themselves during those first five minutes of the second half.
Shania Robba was to change things as she stole the ball and with the confidence of a pro took on Belgium’s defence and keeping her composure smashed it past Belgium’s keeper for the equaliser.
Jubilation and celebration echoed across the sports hall as the crowd stood and cheered what was another historic moment.
It was to take another 30 minutes of real-time, just fifteen on the futsal clock, before the next page of Gibraltar’s football history was to be written, yet it would be during those thirty minutes that the players secured what could be Gibraltar’s turning point for women’s football.
A belief and confidence echoed across the team as not only did they defend with grit and determination but also placed Belgium’s goal under threat.
Many a heroine was to emerge, from players whose timely slide tackles prevents attempts at goal, to players getting up and getting on with it even after feeling the full brunt of collisions, shoves and even stamping from the high tempo game to the brave goalkeeping which kept Belgium from scoring.
Gibraltar also had their opportunities, not just rare ones, but ample enough of them to feel they deserved to get the winner themselves.
The young players, many still teenagers, wrote their next big chapter in women’s football as they completed the official time of play with the score still at 2-2. It was, however, not a celebration, but with some disappointment which they now faced extra time. Their claims for a goal in the very last second of the match were to be proven correct through viral videos showing how the ball had crossed the line before it was cleared by the Belgium defence. However, their calls had come to nothing as the officials had not seen the ball cross the time and merely blew for the end of the match setting up for further excitement.
Extra time was to see Belgium pressing on Gibraltar and eventually scoring. When everything seemed to look as if Gibraltar would not be able to overcome this final blow, Shania Robba was to once again raise the roof at the sports hall.
With 3 mins 33 seconds left Gibraltar scored their third and set forward for another moment of history as they threw their bodies behind their passion to try and find a way to winning whilst ensuring Belgium did not score anymore. Gibraltar were to succeed in one of their objectives as they finished the match 3-3 and set the game to be finished on penalties.
Gibraltar took the penalties to a sudden death scenario with saw them eventually defeated.
It was Belgium who would walk away celebrating to the next round of the competition. However, Gibraltar women’s Futsal had succeeded across many areas with their performance. The tears of players were met through hugs and embraces, compliments and even tears from supporters themselves as they were praised.
“This was probably the best match I have seen any Gibraltar team play,” commented one supporter, his comments echoed by officials, former players, fans and those who are not so much fans of football. They were not passing by comments but ones of praise.
Women’s football which had struggled during the past years to grab the attention of the many had not only gained itself new fans it had also cemented its new foundations a further step up the long pathway towards being recognised as an equal in the world of football in Gibraltar. The determination, quality and maturity shown on the playing field highlighting the progress the sport has made in such a short time and with the reduced resources which the senior men’s teams can garner.
Although now having to wait until the next international, Gibraltar had scored more than just the two goals, it had scored and earned respect.