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Monday, June 15, 2015


A balmy summer's night in southern Portugal was the backdrop to the Euro 2016 Group C game between Gibraltar and Germany, with the match taking place at the Estádio Algarve - half-way between Faro and Loulé - as the British colony still possesses no stadium suitable enough to host competitive international matches.

Earlier the same day (13/6/15), Poland put four goals past Georgia to go top of the group table, and would remain leaders irrespective of what happened in Portugal. Germany were expected to dispose of Gibraltar with the minimum of effort, whilst Gibraltar had conceded at least six goals in three of their previous five group games, losing them all.

However, the boys from the Rock were determined to throw the form-book out the window, and attempted to take the game to the world champions straight from the kick-off, with Liam Walker causing goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller some alarm with a shot from distance early on. 

Germany still had the better of the early exchanges, however, and a foul on D3 by G11 led to a sixth-minute penalty; Bastian Schweinsteiger's sidefooted spot-kick trundled to Jordan Perez's left, who saved easily, and the rebound was cleared for a corner. 

It was the first important save of the night for the Gibraltar goalkeeper - who had already saved  long-range efforts from the visitors - and he was to make many more in the first half. 

As Perez was concentrating on keeping Germany at bay, his team-mates were busy foraging further up the pitch, and Weidenfeller had to be at his best to stop Adam Priestly's shot after 17 minutes, and again four minutes later when he had to deal with an Aaron Payas free-kick from 20 yards out. 

In the twenty-eighth minute, Ryan Casciaro failed to control a loose ball under pressure from Andre Schurrle on the left-hand side some 25 yards from Perez's goal. Schurrle ran on and slotted the ball low to the left of Perez to open the scoring for Der Mannschaft

Two minutes later, Jake Gosling had a golden chance to equalise after Joseph Chipolina, on the end of a long ball from Liam Walker, volleyed over a cross from the left, but he shot straight at Weidenfeller from six yards out when a shot to either side of the German 'keeper would surely have found the net. 

Bellarabi and Herrmann missed chances to put Germany further in front, before Perez pulled off four saves in as many minutes as the first half approached its climax, saving first from Schurrle, then Mesut Özil in a one-on-one, before stopping the unmarked Patrick Herrmann's shot from five yards out. Jonas Hector was the fourth German to be denied just before the break, his point-blank chest-down of an effort was acrobatically scooped away by the Gibraltar custodian.

The second half kicked off some five minutes later than planned due to the discovery of a hole in the Weidenfeller's net during the half-time break, a problem which was solved thanks to the utilisation of some tie-wraps and a lighter. Gibraltar fans were hoping for a repeat of their team's tremendous performance during the previous 45 minutes, but their hopes were dashed after Germany scored twice in the first six minutes of the second half.

Max Kruse doubled the lead for Germany in the 47th minute, but Jean Carlos Garcia missed a chance to bring the deficit back to a goal a minute later. Lee Casciaro won the ball for the hosts following a 50-50 challenge in midfield, and he passed to Walker, who in turn stroked the ball across to Garcia.The Lincoln man did not really get hold of his shot from fourteen yards out, which flew over the bar.

A horrible back-pass from inside the German half by Walker reached Herrmann some ten yards outside the Gibraltar penalty-area. Herrmann laid the ball off to Iklay Gündogan who, with a skip/dummy combination and a low shot into the corner of Perez's net, made it 3:0 after 51 minutes. Karim Bellarabi's goal for the visitors three minutes later was incorrectly ruled out for a very marginal offside.
Lee Casciaro then almost capitalised on some indecision in the centre of the German defence, but his acrobatically inventive dink over the advancing Weidenfeller only just cleared the crossbar. In the 57th minute, Joseph Chipolina's interception was heading out for a corner when Perez inexplicably kept the ball in; Özil was first to react, and squared the ball to Bellarabi to tap in his first goal for his country and Germany's fourth on the night.

Sixty-five minutes had passed when Gündokan beat four defenders on a run into the penalty-area and then shot from the edge of the six-yard box, only to see Perez pull off yet another fine save. The Gibraltar goalie's efforts came to naught, however, as Schurrle was on hand to first dummy Perez and a defender and then stroke the ball into the empty net. 

Lee Chipolina's nifty low ball into the penalty-area on the hour found Walker in space ten yards out, but he scuffed his shot low and wide to the left of Weidenfeller's goal, much to the dismay of the 3000 Gibraltarians who had made the hop over to the Algarve to warch the match. 

Perez denied Özil as his outfield team-mates slowly but surely began to tire under increasing German pressure. Schurrle scored his third and Germany's sixth in the 70th minute after a pass from midfield cut the Gibraltar defence open and found Özil, who then squared to Schurrle for a simple tap-in.

Ryan Chipolina's timely tackle on substitute Podolski prevented a seventh goal, as did another Perez save, denying Sami Khedira, and Kyle Casciaro went close to scoring a consolation goal for the hosts with a quarter of an hour remaining. Germany were not to be denied, though, and Kruse scored his second of the night with ten minutes still to play, crisply volleying low into the net off Perez's legs.

Germany continued to create (and miss) chances, but Gibraltar's Liam Walker almost had the last word when he curled in a tricky shot from outside the penalty-area in the third minute of injury-time, an effort which Weidenfeller could only hold at the second attempt as it threatened to squirm away from him and John Sergeant was homing in on the loose ball.

Seven-nil, then to Germany at the final whistle, but although they missed several good chances, the result would surely have flattered the world champions as Gibraltar only really began to tire in the last 20 minutes or so. Remember, too, that Walker's crazy back-pass directly contributed to Germany's third goal, and Perez's error - his only one all night - in not letting the ball go out of play led to their fifth. Gibraltar deserved to get on the scoresheet - they had seven shots on target - and should have scored at least a couple of goals.

And then there was that tremendous first-half display from the team in red: they went forward at every opportunity, they defended tenaciously, and Jordan Perez had a first half that will remain a highlight of his career. He can console himself with the knowledge that he could do little about most of the seven goals he conceded in what was still a man-of-the-match performance. He was terrific on the night. 

His team-mates, to a man, did their best and deserved the standing ovation they received from their supporters at the end of the match. Apart from Perez, Liam Walker especially impressed, and Kyle and Lee Casciaro also stood out, but that is by no means a criticism of the effort put in by the rest of the team.

It would be difficult not to concur with the opinion of Dennis Beiso, GFA general secretary, when he said this the following evening: "I thought we gave a superb account of ourselves in the first half against the world champions. Our efforts, and German quality, took their toll in the second half. That said, I don't feel 7-0 was an accurate reflection of the performance and our boys deserved a goal at least. 

"Jordan Perez in goal was magnificent and I think we saw some other top class performances from the Gibraltarian players. Nonetheless, we go back to Gibraltar with our heads held high and fully confident that we are improving with every game."

There were the usual snide comments in some quarters after the match which appeared to concentrate solely on the result instead of on the actual performance of the Gibraltar team, and questioned the right of the GFA to field a team in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. 

If the Gibraltar players can improve their fitness levels a little and iron out one or two deficiencies in their play, especially in defence, they are more than capable of at least reaching the level where the Faroe Islands and (perhaps) Liechtenstein are now, shutting up many of the critics in the process. 

Gibraltar are, after all, competing in their first-ever major competition, which is a huge step up from competing in Island Games tournaments, and it is proving a huge learning-curve. But, improvement is certainly not beyond them and their performance against Germany was, for the most part, pleasing to the eye. No points, no goals, but there were plenty of positives. It is up to them to keep going, and concrete improvement will surely be just around the corner.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the GFA's new general secretary Dennis Beiso for forwarding his comments; good luck to him in his new post.

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