Gibraltar: Europe welcomes a new generation of footballing potential

November 21, 2013 in International by Lizzi Hollis

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Tuesday night was historic for many reasons – England lost their second consecutive home game at Wembley for the first time since the 1970s, and a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick saw off Sweden’s World Cup hopes as they and their controvertible striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be staying at home this summer, beaten by Portugal in both legs of the play-off. But a small British territory on the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula stole the show, as Gibraltar played their debut game as an official member of UEFA.

Gibraltar

It hasn’t been an easy road to UFEA for this small territory, with only 600 registered footballers and a population of around 30,000 people. Their original bid was rejected in 2007 after Spain opposed the proposition and threatened to boycott all European and World competitions if the move was allowed (how different the last five years might’ve looked!). For those of you unfamiliar with Gibraltar, there is tension over the territory between Britain and Spain, who see themselves as sovereign, even though it has been under British rule since th 18th century and overall citizens consider themselves British. But enough of the history lesson; after the rejection in 2007, Gibraltar tried successfully to be accepted in October 2012 and became official members in May of this year.

They are now determined to shake off their connections to both England and Spain and prove themselves individually as a footballing nation. On Tuesday night, they made massive headway in doing just that, holding a decent Slovakia team to a 0-0 draw. The was game played in Portugal as Gibraltar’s own national stadium is currently being renovated to meet UEFA standards, and the Gibraltar team consisted of 3 players from English football - including Danny Higginbotham, known for playing spells at Stoke, Derby and Southampton, and is the star player for the team, making his international debut last night, qualifying through his Gibraltarian mother (probably doesn’t hurt that his uncle is manager too).

HigginbothamGib

Although Slovakia did not field key players such as Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and Marek Hamsik in this game and have not managed to qualify for Brazil next year, they are not a poor team. They convincingly beat Poland 2-0 on Friday, and we all remember their 3-2 defeat of Italy in the last World Cup, sending them out at the group stages. On the night, it was not the Gibraltar attack that Slovakia had to worry about, and goalkeeper Tomas Kosicky was barely troubled; coming closest to goal through a deflected shot was English non-league player Adam Priestley. Gibraltar defended well and it is commendable that they tried to play (albeit with little possession) rather than just keep the ball from their net. However, as Slovakia increased their attack rate in the second half, it was imperative for Gibraltar to play mostly defensive tactics and they were saved a number of times by this solid resolution and their goalkeeper Jason Perez, who had an outstanding game.

When the 90 minutes ended, Gibraltar celebrated the draw like a victory, and I suppose in a way it was. Instead of accepting their small nation status, they played football with the determination of the big boys and were rewarded for their gallant efforts. This historic night for the team from The Rock can be well celebrated, and fans will be looking forward to when they are able to make their mark on Europe in the qualifying stages of Euro 2016.

GibraltarSlovakia

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