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Thomas Silva secures victory for Eagles in tense finale

Eagles 1-1 Luxembourg
Eagle win on penalties

Possibly the last match to be played on the present water-based artificial hockey turf at Bayside Eagles was an intense finale against Luxembourg HC. One they were to win on penalties. The turf at Bayside, after nearly two decades of use, is dry and rugged and is due to be replaced this summer. This has impacted the Gibraltar national team's participation in competitions this summer but has been welcomed by all hockey enthusiasts, signaling the start of a new era.

Eagles, who will play in the Challenge I competition next year, might not be able to host the competition again after having done so three years in a row. The Eagles' final match saw a fifteen-minute delay while the pitch was watered down, which did not prevent the already half-filled stands from enjoying themselves. The additional fifteen minutes saw the crowds singing to the music, adding to the party atmosphere as Eagles searched for another successful end to a tournament. The start of the match saw orange smoke flares greet the teams as they walked out, with an electric ambience in the stands transmitting rare support to players in Gibraltar.

It was an electric start to the match. Eagles launched the first attack, quickly followed by Luxembourg on a quick offensive, which saw Borge block but a short corner given away moments later. Luxembourg capitalized from the short corner, drilling the ball in with just a minute and a half played. Not panicking from conceding early, Eagles maintained their formation and pushed forward, with the crowds firmly behind them. Luxembourg, however, proved to be a tough, strong team. Their second attack, with just four minutes played, earned them a second short corner. This time, the Eagles defense was alert to the danger and bravely blocked.

It was a tough day for the umpires, with a vocal crowd focusing their chants towards them at times. The encounter was intense, with neither side dominating possession and tensions rising on the field from early on. Borge did well to put off a Luxembourg forward when he was on goal after eight minutes of play, coming out well to pressure for a missed shot on target. Eagles tried to drive the ball to their opponents but were met by some stern, solid defending. With calls going against Eagles multiple times, frustrations among Eagles players grew as they were denied from threatening Luxembourg's goal. The first real strike at goal came with two minutes left in the quarter—a long-distance hit which Lopez failed to reach, missing by mere inches.

Eagles penned their opponents back but failed to capitalize, facing quick counters which saw them having to reset and build from the back. A vocal crowd maintained their loud support throughout the first quarter. Eagles started strongly in the second quarter, forcing a save by the near post, with high pressure keeping Luxembourg from finding an easy route out of their half. Luxembourg, however, were still a threat with their quick breaks, seeing Borge push a ball to the post and then come away with a second brilliant save four minutes into the second quarter, as Eagles' defense was caught out on the chase.

Although Eagles maintained the pressure, Luxembourg found their feet, forcing Eagles to spread thinly in areas, making it harder to link defense with the frontline. Six minutes into the second quarter, Eagles forced a save as they came closer to goal. Robert Guiling saw himself booked with a green card alongside a Luxembourg player as tensions rose. Controversy arose moments later after Eagles saw the ball go in but were denied a goal, with the touch by the foot of the keeper missed by the umpire. With calls going against Eagles, frustrations grew, with even veteran Gareth Henwood smacking his stick on the ground at one stage. Robert Guiling, who had returned to the field, saw a chance hit the wrong side of the post with two minutes left to halftime. Having come behind the defense and within inches of the goal but at the narrowest of angles, he was unable to turn the ball around into the goal.

Eagles' pressure mounted, and within seconds they earned themselves a short corner. Julian Lopez, on the second strike, lifted the crowds as the ball struck the backboards, leveling the game with one minute left before halftime. Julian Lopez received a green card moments later in a further controversial decision by the umpires, which earned them even less friendly comments from the crowd. Things were level when Robert Guiling saw his stick flung away, earning a Luxembourg player a green card, ensuring Luxembourg started the second half with the same number of players as Eagles, with Lopez also out. The second quarter finished with both sides level at 1-1, with everything still to play for.

Eagles started the second half setting their own pace. The match cooled down in tensions as the cooler breeze of the late afternoon started to lower temperatures, with Eagles penning their opponents back in the first five minutes. Luxembourg struggled to find any fluidity and gave away a short corner five minutes into the third quarter, with the final shot going wide. A mistake in defense as they were rebuilding from the back saw Borge forced to come off his lines to block in a one-on-one, again demonstrating why he is considered one of the best in the league. Luxembourg packed the back, closing down space as Eagles maintained a constant onslaught. With six minutes left of the third quarter, Luxembourg's defense scrambled to clear their goalmouth as the shots rang in. They held on, slowing the pace when in possession, making a rare surge forward.

Eagles regained possession and within seconds saw two balls go menacingly across the goal but were still unable to break the deadlock. With two minutes left of the third quarter, Dobinson received a yellow card, adjudged to have caused an infringement trying to cut a counter-attack. This allowed Luxembourg to mount some pressure on Eagles' goal, with a shot going across the goal and a sliding attempt missing the ball to divert into an empty goal. Eagles went into the final short break level at 1-1, having had the greater of the chances.

As the final quarter started, the flares came out in the stands, but it was Luxembourg on the offensive. Only a great block from Silva stopped an attempt on goal after Luxembourg sliced through the defense and found a player running behind the defense onto the goal. The visitors, who had weathered the earlier Eagles surges, started to throw everything at Eagles. The match saw end-to-end action as Eagles also came close to scoring with five minutes of the final quarter played. With seven minutes played, Eagles found themselves with an opportunity from a short corner. The usual efficiency was not there as urgency caused some hesitation in the passing, allowing Luxembourg to take the game to them instead, with a ball across goal inches from being diverted in.

The tightly contested battle on the field silenced in part the very vocal crowd as nerves picked up with time ticking away. With spaces opening and the field stretched, it was an end-to-end final three minutes. Yellow cards to both Eagles and Luxembourg players saw the final two minutes played with a player less on each side. Eagles, to the last ball in the last second, tried to break the deadlock but had to contend with a penalty shootout.
Controversy started almost immediately with Julian Lopez judged to have fouled the keeper in the first attempt. Borge forcing his opponent to miss. Eagles were to score in their second attempt. Tensions in the centre circle rising as players confronted each other delaying Luxembourgs second penalty.
Extraordinary players from sent off following the incident.
The eventual second penalty was saved by another once again leaving Eagles with the advantage. Borge was to make it three.
Gareth Henwood with the next penalty scoring.
Luxembourg were to score their best one leaving it to Silva. The veteran player securing a well deserved victory for Eagles that sends them into Challenge I next season.
In other matches across Eurohockey, Grammarians won 2-0 against Epitok, while Europa drew 0-0 to finish second in their group. The crossovers are to be played this Monday in both tournaments.

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