Friday, 28 February 2014

Gibraltar – Rock Solid or Monkey Business?


Written by Danny Higginson
On the 23rd of February 2014 footballing history was made. The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar was drawn out of the hat and placed alongside Germany, Scotland, The Republic of Ireland, Poland and Georgia in group D for the 2016 European Championship Qualifiers for the first time in the nation’s history. But, can this tiny nation of just under 30,000 people, UEFA’s smallest member in terms of population behind San Marino (32,000) on the southern tip of Spain have a ‘rock’ solid impact on their group or is it just a load of monkey business? (Barbary Macaque’s to be precise!)
A wonderful backdrop but do the Gibraltarians have the skill to match?
Previous Fixtures
Since being confirmed as an official UEFA member, Gibraltar have participated in one friendly so far against Slovakia, but have a home tie against the Faroe Islands on the 1st of March, followed by the first fixture of a home and away friendly double header against Estonia, before beginning their Euro qualifying campaign at ‘home’ against Poland.  The match against Slovakia was held as a ‘home’ match for the tiny nation, but was played at the Estadio Algarve near Faro in Portugal due to the Victoria Stadium on the island, not being up to UEFA’s requirements. The match ended all square at 0-0 with Slovakia having the better of the chances, whilst also choosing to rest key men such as Marek Hamsik, but this was still a credible result for Gibraltar which begs the question, how far can this team go?
 Hoof! Investigates the island nation’s chances.
The Stadium
Throughout the qualifying campaign it is expected that Gibraltar will host their games at the Estadio Algarve near the city of Faro in Portugal, four hours away from the micro nations border. This is due to the political tension between Gibraltar and their neighbours Spain, who claim ownership of the Rock. Britain disputes this claim and a referendum was held in in 1967 which declared that the Gibraltarians rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty, thus remaining an independent nation, albeit closely monitored by Great Britain. For this reason, Gibraltar is unable to stage games in its disgruntled neighbors’ territory, hence why Portugal was seen as the logical choice. The stadium itself has a capacity of 30,000 which is more than the population of the entire state. Against Slovakia, three hundred football fanatics made the journey to watch their heroes make their international bow after official recognition and it remains to be seen how many more would make the trip for an official qualifier, therefore it is debatable whether Gibraltar could depend upon a ‘home advantage’ when playing games. 
The Squad
Possibly the position that Gibraltar’s more experienced players occupy, in terms of professional appearances is their defence. The Gibraltarians can count Preston North End utility man Scott Wiseman, former Manchester United and Stoke City defender Danny Higginbotham and English lower league journeyman David Artell amongst their own. In midfield can be found another professional player in the shape of Liam Walker, who currently plays for Bnei Yehuda in Israel.  Walker joined ‘The Golden’s’ under recommendation from Israeli footballing icon Yossi Benayoun and is described as a ‘tricky winger with an eye for goal’.  Other players deserving of a mention are Farsley Celtic’s international superstar Adam Priestley and Reece Styche who is currently on loan at Wycombe Wanderers from footballing giants Forest Green Rovers. These current and ex professionals (Higginbotham has recently retired from club football) will be key to maintaining discipline among the defensive ranks when the pressure is on against footballing powerhouse Germany and qualifying hopefuls The Republic of Ireland, Scotland and a Robert Lewandowski inspired Poland.
35 year old ex Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham will be crucial to Gibraltar’s hopes.
The Manager
A more optimistic man than those of us here at Hoof! Coach Allen Bula after the draw for the qualifiers was made stated that he believed his team could at least secure a place in the knockouts by finishing third in the group, which begs the question of which three teams in group D will finish with less points than this optimistic (If not slightly deluded?) manager suggests his team will get? 
The Verdict
It is hard to see Gibraltar being anything more than a team that is just there to ‘make up the numbers’, as the lack of quality throughout the team is plain for everyone to see. This coupled with a lack of a ground within the borders of the micro-nation all adds up to ultimately a qualifying round full of pride, but with perhaps only a couple of points to show for it. Hoof!’s prediction for the Mediterranean minnows is last place with two points, after ‘home’ draws against Georgia and Scotland.      
For ‘highlights’ of Gibraltar’s 0-0 draw with Slovakia, follow the link below:

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