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Gibraltar took on Bulgaria in Sofia this evening in the first of the November ‘triple header’ of internationals with three back to back matches in a week.  

The friendly, in the Vasil Levski National Stadium, was hastily rearranged by UEFA given COVID restrictions in and around travelling to Albania who were Gibraltar’s originally scheduled opponents tonight. (Gibraltar’s National team having contractual obligations to fulfil international fixtures due to missing out on two international windows in March and June due their COVID related cancellations).

With the huge UEFA Nations League fixture against San Marino, away, coming up on Saturday, Julio Ribas chose to mix up his starting eleven somewhat. Kyle Goldwin retained his place in goal, with Ethan Jolley, Roy Chipolina, Scott Wiseman, Aymen Mouelhi and Alain Pons at the back, Liam Walker, Graeme Torrilla, Erin Barnett and Kian Ronan in midfield and Mohamed Badr started as the lone forward player. No doubting the fact that three games in less than a week, and two of them being potentially historic for Gibraltar, Ribas set his stall  out to use this game as part of the build-up to the weekend.  

 

 

For the home side, Bulgaria, in League B Group 4 of the Nations League, alongside Wales, Republic of Ireland and Finland, this game was massively needed to attempt to kick start their international season, having lost their last four games. This was the start of their triple header with huge games at home to Finland and away in Dublin to come this week.

Gibraltar got off to the worst possible start. In the 6th minute Goldwin missed his attempted punched clearance, and went down injured. With the Gibraltar keeper down on the floor, the ball fell to Iliev who set up Tsvetov to drill the ball home into an unguarded goal. With Goldwin still down injured and the referee not stopping the game, somewhat controversially the goal stood.

In truth Gibraltar were finding it difficult to get a grip on the game and in the 15th minute Bulgaria Made it 2-0. S.Popov fed Yomov who drilled a finish low into the Gibraltar net giving Goldwin no chance.

 

 

Despite the hosts scoring the second, Gibraltar did start to settle. Walker broke free down the right hand side in the 24th minute and looked up curling a left footed cross onto the onrushing Barnett who took one touch before shooting straight into the hands of Yomov in the Bulgaria goal.

 

 

Goldwin made another save from Iliev on the half hour mark but with Gibraltar looking to go into the half time break at 2-0 down disaster struck. Right on the stroke of half time, in the 45th minute, Iliev headed in the third, unmarked from a Yomov corner.

At half time Ribas made a triple substitution, Olivero replaced Mouelhi, Sergeant replaced Roy Chipolina and Annesley came on for Wiseman. More evidence of this game being preparation for bigger things to come this weekend!

 

 

Goldwin denied Iliev in the 48th minute, just before Ribas made three further changes, Styche on for Badr, Kyle Casciaro replaced Graeme Torrilla  and Coombes came on for Liam Walker.  

Instantly the physical presence of Styche began to prove a huge handful for Antov and Bozhikov in the heart of the Bulgarian defence.

As the second half developed Gibraltar grew into the game with Ribas’ substitutions having the desired effect. Annesley, showing some aggression was booked in the 73rd minute and the hosts were finding it more and more difficult to get through the Gibraltar defence.  Coombes ever willing and hardworking was also proving difficult for the Bulgarians to get a grip on.  

The energy Gibraltar showed in the second half was there for all to see. Kyle Casciaro was cautioned for a foul on Kovachev late on  and arguably Malinov should have received the same treatment from the match official as he dumped Annesley to the ground  a minute later.

Against the 66th best team in the World (according to the latest FIFA World Rankings) Gibraltar’s much improved second half performance, with Head Coach Julio Ribas living every minute of the action in his usual style from the touchline, saw the game end 3-0, and despite not being able to trouble the Bulgarian goal, this game was all about preparations and getting players ready for the weekends huge game versus San Marino.

 

 

A difficult test against a team two divisions above Gibraltar in the UEFA Nations League, proved a tough test but a much needed one to get the players into the groove, ahead of a potentially historic weekend for Gibraltar’s National Team!

Next up then is San Marino away on Saturday afternoon, before Julio Ribas and his Gibraltarian warriors return home to face Liechtenstein in Tuesday at 8:45pm at the Victoria Stadium, knowing that one win would see them win League D Group 4 of the UEFA Nations League!