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Gibraltar’s Men’s National Team played two tough friendlies at the beginning of June as part of their preparations for the latest edition of the UEFA Nations League, which kicks off in September this year. Scotland and Wales were the opposition at the Estadio Algarve (both of whom were ranked inside the world’s top 40 by the latest FIFA Rankings) in what were to be the Men’s National Team’s last two matches of the year in Portugal, as UEFA had recently confirmed that they were prepared to grant an exemption allowing Europa Point Stadium to be used for the Autumn Nations League fixtures.

First up for Gibraltar was a Scotland side that was undoubtedly riding the crest of a wave. Head Coach Steve Clarke had masterminded one of the most impressive qualifying campaigns that the Tartan Army had arguably ever seen. In fact, Scotland comfortably qualified for Euro 2024 from a group that included Spain and an Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard propelled Norway. As they arrived at the Estadio Algarve, it was Euro 2024 (which was only just over a week away for them) firmly on their minds.

 

 

Steve Clarke named a strong Scotland side to face Gibraltar, with his captain Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, Aston Villa’s John McGinn, and Brighton’s Billy Gilmour all starting. With Clarke casting an eye over his team's tactical setup from up in the stands, Assistant Coach John Carver was barking out instructions from the dugout in front of approximately two thousand travelling Scottish fans. The teams went into the half-time break deadlocked with the score at 0-0. For Gibraltar, Jaylan Hankins, making his international debut in goal, was impressing, as well as a new look attack spearheaded by Tjay DeBarr and young James Scanlon, who had just signed his first professional contract with none other than Manchester United.

 

 

Goals from Bournemouth’s Ryan Christie in the 58th minute and Southampton’s Che Adams in the 85th minute sealed an underwhelming 2-0 victory for Scotland, who were no doubt looking for a more comfortable and relaxed warm-up match for Euro 2024. From Gibraltar’s perspective, it was an immensely disciplined and impressive performance from a very young team selected by Head Coach Julio Ribas, with the aforementioned Hankins excelling on debut. His performance emphasised how well-stocked Gibraltar’s goalkeeping department is under the guidance of National Team Goalkeeping Coach Christian Wink.

 

 

However, for one young Gibraltarian of Scottish descent, this Monday evening at the Estadio Algarve will never be forgotten. Young Reilly Roper, mascot for the day, travelled up with his family and got to walk out hand in hand with Scotland Captain Andy Robertson and passionately sing both national anthems at the top of his voice! What a heartwarming moment for all of his family, after all the young man has had to endure over the past few years in his battle to overcome leukaemia.

 

 

Gibraltar had three days to recover and prepare to face a Wales team that sat 29th in FIFA’s World Rankings. Head Coach Rob Page was itching to put the recent disappointment of missing out on EURO 2024, after losing on penalties in their playoff final in March, behind him and saw playing against Gibraltar as the perfect opportunity to give some of his younger players a run out. Bolton’s Josh Sheehan captained the Wales team, which featured the likes of Charlie Savage, Rabbi Matondo, Rubin Colwill, and Ben Cabango in their starting eleven.

Much like the Scotland game three days earlier, it was goalless at half-time with Jaylan Hankins once again extremely impressive in goal and Louie Annesley and Bernardo Lopes imperious at the heart of the Gibraltar defence. From a Welsh perspective, the travelling 1500 supporters’ rousing rendition of their anthem, ‘Land of My Fathers,’ was the most memorable part of their first half.

 

 

In the second half, Rob Page played his trump cards. Dan James of Leeds United, Kieffer Moore, coming off an impressive season at Ipswich, and Tottenham’s Brennan Johnson were all thrown on to try and break down a resolute Gibraltarian defence. Even young Liverpool forward Lewis Koumas was brought on, and it was the young starlet who forced Hankins into making his best save of the week low down to his left. Even with over seven minutes of injury time, Wales could not break the deadlock. Julio Ribas had overseen one of Gibraltar’s most iconic results ever (especially in the modern era). A clean sheet against the team ranked 29th in the world and a second tremendously disciplined performance of the week, littered with impressive performances from young Gibraltar internationals such as Hankins, Evan De Haro, Scanlon, Ayoub El Hmidi, and Jaiden Bartolo, as well as some youngsters who are not so young anymore such as Jayce Olivero, Annesley, Ethan Britto, Kian Ronan, and Ethan Jolley.

 

 

Interestingly, the friendly against Wales proved to be a tale of two goalkeepers. The imperious Hankins in Gibraltar’s goal had put in two performances showcasing the potential that various teams in Spain had seen in him as a youngster. And from a Welsh perspective, a debut for Wolverhampton Wanderers keeper Tom King against Gibraltar was extra special. King had spent much of his childhood in Gibraltar and played his football for Manchester 62 FC in Gibraltar’s youth leagues.

 

 

Two impressive performances from Gibraltar’s Men’s National Team have perfectly set up a blockbuster of an autumn UEFA Nations League campaign, in what is to be a repeat of the 2020 Group, as Liechtenstein and San Marino are the opposition, back on home soil at Europa Point, where Gibraltar will be looking to put in some impressive performances in front of their beloved and unrivalled home support!