“If you don’t score you will never win”
Analysis and Opinion by Stephen Ignacio
Gibraltar’s European qualifier group matches have seen them go from heroes to targets from supporters who ask for more than just watching Gibraltar defend deep in their penalty area.
An initial string of 3-0 defeats against Greece, then the Netherlands, followed by France and the Republic of Ireland silenced many critics at first as the extraordinary feat of reducing former World Champions and World Cup finalists to just the three goals left many praising Gibraltar’s resilience.
Yet international football, like the football seasons, change just as rapidly and so does perceptions. A 5-0 defeat at the hands of Greece, followed by a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Republic of Ireland was seen as a backward step for Gibraltar.
Whilst the 3-0 defeats had seen Gibraltar defending very deep and through sheer determination, discipline and resilience had frustrated their opponents. The same tactics, which had been praised by many have now been the subject of constant debate and criticism.
A lack of offensive attempts during the last two matches, even though the previous four had also seen a similar lack of attacks, raised the tone of critics against Gibraltar’s national coach tactics which has seemingly focused on Gibraltar defending.
However, there was a twist to the tale, as it also became apparent that Gibraltar’s head coach had not exactly called on his players to defend deep and clear balls quickly as they had been doing in the past two matches, but had been clearly heard from the sidelines calling on his players to keep possession and have the confidence to play the ball.
The confidence that had seen Gibraltar frustrate opponents seemed to have been lost over the summer and as Gibraltar football entered into its new season. Coinciding too with the fact that Gibraltar’s home-grown players had been dealt a major blow when league clubs agreed to lower home grown player policy to four players from five.
Injuries to key players, a lack of domestic league football and early exits from European club competition football for all of Gibraltar teams represented in Europe provided a dire platform in relation to the preparedness of players for international competition.
A lacklustre start of the domestic league season, with many key players having also moved around from club to club, mostly due to the financial difficulties some clubs had found themselves in, seemed to cast a further grey cloud over players confidence on where football in Gibraltar was heading.
Add the defensive nature and tactics of Gibraltar football when it comes to trying to protect itself from heavy humiliating defeats the scene seemed always to have been set to see Gibraltar’s national team struggle in the very early stages of the new season.
Gibraltar this coming weekend enter into its final two matches of the European qualifier campaigns. Much will be hanging on the results, but most importantly on the performances of players on the field.
If Gibraltar were to repeat their feat of keeping France and the Netherlands to 3-0 scorelines, many would consider this a victory of sorts even in defeat.
With France already having qualified Gibraltar could find themselves in a position where frustrating the French on their home turf could be easier as the hosts will not be looking for much more than securing, they come away with a respectable result against the “minnows.” However, a 3-0 scoreline in front of their home crowd will be seen as a failure by French fans who will no doubt make their feelings heard.
The Netherlands will, however, be another kettle of fish altogether for Gibraltar. Not only will the Netherlands be looking for the three points to secure qualification. They will also be looking to increase their own goal difference in case they need it, making this a final match for Gibraltar in which they can expect to be bombarded for the full 90 minutes.
An unlikely 3-0 scoreline will be considered a victory. However, in the likely scenario that Gibraltar faces a heavier defeat, fans and critics will be looking at other statistics. An increase in Gibraltar’s attempts at goal and offensive opportunities, alongside a more aggressive stance on the pitch would provide Gibraltar fans with greater hopes for the future even if Gibraltar were to face a heavy defeat.
Accustomed to heavy defeats from past results, Gibraltar fans have raised their voices calling for more efforts in trying to go forward instead of defending in matches everyone knows they would probably lose.
“If you don’t score you will never win,” has been repeated by many.