Liam Beglan, Sports Trader
Sitting in Murray’s Sports Bar in Dublin, surrounded by football fans from all over Europe, all with eyes trained on the myriad of screens covering the night’s football action, the talk was of World champions France’s comeback win over Germany, Wales doing the double over sorry Ireland and, of course, England’s stunning victory in Seville the previous evening, when, above all the hubbub came the voice of the main TV sport presenter declaring, and I quote, ‘The highlight of the weekend’s action was the two victories of Gibraltar, away to Armenia and at home to Liechtenstein!’ What….? Not that stunning France-Germany epic in Paris, nor Harry Wilson’s wondrous free-kick strike that swept Wales to the top of their group, not even the Red Rose’s astonishing 3-0 first-half spanking of Spain … NO, the highlight of the week was Little Gib’s giant step forward to the forefront of European football, and boy did it make me very happy that Gibraltar, that tranquil haven I have been blessed to have lived and worked in since 2006, became the chief conversation topic at the bar, all of it complimentary. No more talk of gallant losses, and gloss being put on embarrassing score lines. No, Gibraltar have put a marker down and with the confidence generated by these two magnificent victories, trepidation banished, it’s onwards and upwards for the nation, and this time with just a hint of a swagger.
When I suggested in last month’s magazine that these two games could and should produce points, I was hopeful of perhaps pinching two draws or maybe even a win, but victory in both seemed more than a tad optimistic, and what was especially pleasing was that having fallen a goal behind against Liechtenstein, was the manner of the comeback. In previous internationals, against better opposition, Gibraltar have opened brightly and remained competitive until the final quarter where tiredness always seemed to take its toll and goals were inexorably conceded – but not on this occasion!
In a second-half onslaught, there was an air of inevitability about George Cabrera’s equaliser – as a scorched Victoria Stadium exploded into a red hot cauldron and then, just six minutes later, Joe Chipolina ratcheted up the frenzy to volcanic level when he headed the glorious winner, unleashing a torrent of emotion from the success-starved Gibraltar faithful. A monumental night, never to be forgotten – even trumping Lincoln Red Imps 1-0 win over Glasgow Celtic in a Champions League qualifier at the same venue a couple of years ago – a result that has entered football folklore as The Shock of Gibraltar!
So, what now for Gibraltar who sit proudly in second place in the group, just three points behind leaders Macedonia? Can two victories in a row become three in a row when Armenia come calling to a nation gripped by football fever on Friday, 16th November? After winning 1-0 In Yerevan, the answer, of course, is a resounding yes, the momentum being with Julio Ribas’s troops to do the double over the Armenians, and, depending on the outcome of the Vaduz game, open up the tantalising prospect of topping the table and possible promotion, should Macedonia drop points against Liechtenstein on the same night.
Who could ever have imagined the scenario of ticket touts doing brisk business outside a sure to be sold out Victoria Stadium for a Gibraltar game, as almost certainly will be the case for the Armenia duel? Victory there, a favourable result elsewhere, and three days later all roads, boats and planes will lead the exodus from the Rock to Skopje for a winner-take-all, earth-shattering encounter – the prize being promotion to League C, currently the home of Scotland, and as recent results would seem to indicate, shortly to house Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland – quite an achievement for Gibraltar should the impossible dream become reality.
Should that dream be still alive on Monday, 19th November, a Big Screen, erected in Casemates, to accommodate those of us unable to travel to Macedonia for the showdown, would be most welcome, to natives, expats and tourists, and who knows, the ‘Casemates Roar’, guaranteed to span the 3,500km between Gibraltar and Skopje, might prove to be the inspiration for Julio’s brave boys to once again, for the second time in a month, Rock the World. The dream is indeed very much alive!
Come on Gibraltar!
Friday, 16th November
Gibraltar v Armenia (Victoria Stadium, KO 19:45 GMT)
GBC and Sky
Monday, 19th November
Macedonia v Gibraltar (Skopje, KO 19:45 GMT)
GBC and Sky