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Gibraltar youth football comes under spotlight after heavy defeats

Gibraltar Under 21 played against Netherlands U21 on Monday in a match which left more questions than answers as to the present progress of the development of youth football in Gibraltar.
On a day in which the Gibraltar Under 19s had been beaten 8-0 by Latvia in their European qualifier group matches, their third defeat in under a week in which they had also been beaten 10-0 by Norway and 6-0 by Hungary, the 5-0 defeat of the Under 21s just added to the tally of bad results experienced this month.
The result, although in some ways not the heavy defeat many had expected, was more a reflection of the inefficiency in the accuracy of the Netherlands in front of goal than Gibraltar’s overall performance.
Within seconds from the start of the match Gibraltar was already on the backfoot as they watched the Netherlands slice through their defence and send a low pass across goal.
Within a minute the Netherlands had their first shot at goal by the eleventh minute they were already 1-0 ahead, a minute later scoring their second and Gibraltar already having seen numerous attempts at their goal.
A very defensive looking Gibraltar struggled to find their way out of their half with much of their defensive play seeing them pack the numbers into the penalty box closing gaps for the Dutch.
It was a leisurely ride for the visitors who maintained a calm and composed display, passing the ball around as if on a training ground for the better part of the match.
A small paying crowd which had turned up to the 5.30pm kick off where to walk away disappointed at what was a toothless display from the Gibraltar’s U21. The only real positives coming from a few minor strings of passes and attempts to go forward in the latter minutes of the match. Plus the efforts of an overworked Bradley Avellano in goal who provided Gibraltar with some brilliant saves to deny the Dutch from adding to their tally.
Gibraltar had entered the field very match looking as a team that had already been defeated and playing on the backfoot from the start. One sole yellow card among its ranks in the 90 minutes highlighting what many observers described as a toothless display in which Gibraltar focused on blocking the Netherlands way rather than trying to play the ball.
Countless long balls forward which were destined only to be returned to the visitors, with hurried passes and in some observers view “too much” respect for their opponents, which saw few tough challenges going in, saw the Netherlands playing the ball around with ease. Many a time weaving string of passes together to get to Gibraltar’s very goalmouth.
Twenty-four attempts at goal by the Netherlands contrasted with the three from the home side, most of which came in the latter minutes of the match.
The match was to raise further concerns over Gibraltar national team players’ confidence on the pitch following a string of negative results which has seen both the Under 19s and Under 21s receiving heavy defeats, followed by similar results from the senior teams.
Defensive formations, in which Gibraltar have dug deep at the back and looked as if they were just plugging the holes to keep results down have received heavy criticism. The confidence of players seen by many as having declined in recent matches with players focusing on defensive roles and doing little to retain possession and try and play the ball to find some offensive options.
With the Under 19s also having faced a similar fate with three heavy defeats in recent days and having been overwhelmed on the pitch by sides such as Norway, deep questions over Gibraltar football’s youth development continue to brew as critics continue to question the growing lack of confidence recently seen on the pitch. Many critics highlighting that whilst the same players are known to be talented players who have shone on the domestic league front, and even at national team level during preparations for internationals, their recent performances have been hampered by the overly defensive roles they have had to play in matches.
The constant barrage of blocks Gibraltar’s defence had to put up with in the match against the Netherlands U21, in which at one time nine Gibraltar players were within the penalty box blocking the way has led to questions over the effectiveness of focusing on minimising the goal deficit rather than allowing players to display their skills.
With the Under 19s and Under 21 group matches an important moment for young players to showcase their talents as they seek to enter fully into the professional world of football, Gibraltar’s continued reliance on digging deep in defence even at youth level is seen as a limiting factor towards the progress of Gibraltar football. Detractors of Gibraltar football’s defensive posture suggesting that the latest results and display have highlighted how it is impacting on the confidence of players.
Photos by Christian Correa

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