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Six minutes at the end of the second half is all that stood in the way of a young Gibraltar side and a historic result in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers as two late Latvian goals saw the hosts register a flattering 3-1 victory over Julio Ribas’ youthful and spirited Gibraltar team.

The hosts took the lead early in the second half before being clawed back thanks to a Tjay De Barr penalty, but it was two late goals in the final 6 minutes of the game that undid all of Gibraltar’s hard work as Latvia took home all three points at the Daugava Stadium.

Without the likes of regular stalwarts Lee Casciaro and Liam Walker to call upon, Julio Ribas named a young squad to travel to Latvia which included 11 players under the age of 23; Louie Annesley, Julian Valarino, Kian Ronan, Tjay De Barr, Ethan Britto, Graeme Torrilla, Jayce Olivero, Ethan Santos, Bradley Banda, Kelvin Morgan and Richard Felipes.

In fact, from these 11, Julio Ribas fielded a young Starting XI on the night for Gibraltar which featured six of these young stars; Annesley, Valarino, Ronan, De Barr, Britto and Torrilla.

Julio’s men walked out in the Daugava and were met with blistery and wet conditions as they battled both the Latvia team as well as the harsh Latvian climate on the night.

The hosts started the game on the front foot, controlling play and looking to get in behind the Gibraltar defence which required Dayle Coleing’s intervention twice early on to keep the scoreline at 0-0.

Although Gibraltar struggled to get out of their half for a large part of the first half, the young warriors were solid defensively, frustrating Latvia time after time with their organisation and passionate last ditch defending.

With this being said, despite Latvia’s first half dominance of the ball, Gibraltar constantly looked a threat on the counterattack through De Barr who was making a nuisance of himself up front as he battled hard while hassling and harrying the Latvian defenders.

This combination of defensive solidity as well as the counter attacking threat saw Gibraltar through to the half-time break with the score level at 0-0 and the young stars looking relatively comfortable in the game.

Unfortunately, Gibraltar’s solid defence was breached within minutes of the restart after a soft penalty was given for what was deemed to be a foul on Artūrs Zjuzins.

Vladislavs Gutkovskis stepped up to take the spot kick and put the hosts 1-0 up in the 50th minute, sending Coleing the wrong way and slotting the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.

 

Following the goal, Latvia continued to threaten but the young Gibraltar side, with Valarino and Britto on the wings coupled with De Barr up top, continued to cause problems on the counter attack and eventually Gibraltar would have their golden chance.

De Barr would continue to make a nuisance of himself as he repeatedly was able to bring the ball under control and turn his man. It was in one of these instances that saw Gibraltar win a free-kick that would result in a penalty being awarded after captain Roy Chipolina was brought down in the box.

The decision to give Gibraltar a penalty would require the intervention of VAR as the referee originally decided to play on, however, upon review, the foul on the Gibraltar captain was clear and a penalty was given in the 70th minute.

Hot on the heels of his Carabao Cup heroics with his new club Wycombe Wanderers, De Barr stepped up to take the penalty and coolly slotted it down the middle to bring Gibraltar level on the night.

The goal invigorated Gibraltar who, although remaining solid defensively, did not retreat into their half and instead went in search of a winner.

Despite this positive attitude shown by Julio Ribas’ men, Latvia, spurred on by their home support, would eventually regain control of the game and began pinning Gibraltar’s young stars back into their own half in the closing minutes.

Gibraltar’s warriors would continue to put on a stellar defensive performance as they put their bodies on the line for the badge, making last ditch tackles and blocking shots, however, unfortunately for the young squad, a wicked deflection would undo their hard work in the 85th minute.

A ball into the box by Latvia ricocheted around a whole host of players before somehow falling perfectly at the feet of Raimonds Krollis who found himself staring down Coleing in front of goal. With the whole goal to aim at, the Latvian substitute instead opted to remove Coleing from the equation as he passed the ball sideways to Gutkovskis who now had the goal at his mercy and easily tapped into the net to make it 2-1.

Unfortunately for Gibraltar, Latvia would grab a second goal in rapid succession to make it 3-1 and seal their victory as Andrejs Ciganiks curled a long-range effort into the top right corner to secure all three points for the hosts.

The result flattered the hosts with Gibraltar’s young squad certainly deserving more on the night, however, despite the result, there were positives to take from the game, namely the return to international football for both Joseph Chipolina and Anthony Hernandez who both made appearances as substitutes following lengthy spells on the side-line through injury.

The team will now travel back home to prepare for the impending arrival of Turkey on the Rock on Saturday 4 September!