Apart from all the World Cup preparation matches being staged this week, there were also a few international friendlies played by teams which had failed to qualify for Brazil due to various reasons. The Gibraltar versus Malta encounter would normally fail to accommodate much space in the sports media, but the 1-0 win registered by Gibraltar was their first victory since becoming full members of UEFA and was a cause of much celebration.
With a population of just 30,000, Gibraltar is the smallest member of UEFA and they have been staging some home matches at Faro on the Algarve due to the unsuitability of stadiums within the territorial area. After a succession of matches played in the regular Island Games competition and another strange encounter in a 5-0 victory against Tibet, they were granted full membership of UEFA in 2013.
Gibraltar have not been disgraced in subsequent international friendlies with an opening 0-0 draw against Slovakia followed by defeats against Faroe Islands and then Estonia. An away draw in Estonia during May was a sign of serious improvement ahead of their clash with Malta, a nation which is by no means the worst of the European minnows.
FIFA have yet to fully recognise Gibraltar but for their fifth match as UEFA nation they earned a deserved 1-0 victory against the Maltese with a well taken goal scored by Kyle Cascairo who plays for the Lincoln Imps in the Gibraltar Premier League. Manager Allen Bula was raised high above the players amid jubilant scenes at the final whistle.
For Gibraltar to have secured such a victory is a real achievement when considering the majority of their squad play for either the Lincoln Red Imps or Manchester ’62 teams which both play at the 2,000 capacity Victoria Stadium on Winston Churchill Avenue. One of the squad members on Wednesday evening, Adam Priestley, plays for Farsley FC in the Northern Premier League in England, many tiers below likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.
Yet in much the same way as Luxembourg earned some real creditability with a 1-1 midweek draw against Italy, Gibraltar have secured the right to be taken seriously after their initial acceptance by UEFA provoked much laughter and derision.
In September, they will be competing in the qualifying rounds of the 2016 UEFA European Championship in which Poland, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Germany will provide the opposition. All home matches will be played at Faro but to date they are unbeaten in two full international matches at the Algarve stadium.
Gibraltar are likely to finish bottom of the group but the 1-0 win against Malta entitles them to be considered as worthy opponents for their more illustrious group members.
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