13th November 2016
World Cup Qualifier
GSP Stadium, Nicosia, Cyprus
Cyprus 3-1 Gibraltar
What ultimately ended with a disappointing result for Gibraltar, was actually a fairly encouraging and solid performance.
In scoring only Gibraltar’s second ever World Cup goal, Lee Casciaro had put Gibraltar in the mix for a stunning, if unlikely, draw. Sadly that wasn’t to be, with Cyprus sealing the win in the final quarter of the game.
The match had actually begun fairly positively for Gibraltar who created the first chance of the game when Joseph Chipolina found the net with a header from Liam Walker’s swinging free-kick only to have it chalked off for offside.
In a relatively even first half, Gibraltar gave as good as they got on the whole, only for Cyprus to take the lead on the half hour. A deflected free-kick ricocheted its way to Kostas Laifis who gave Deren Ibrahim no chance with his shot. That goal was Cyprus’s first in the group so far in their fourth game – an indication of their standing in the group and the potential for Gibraltar to challenge them.
Not to be put off by that concession, Gibraltar again began the second half positively. This time their endeavour bore fruit with the men in red in the ascendancy. In the 51st minute another floated Liam Walker free-kick found Erin Barnett at the far post. He headed the ball back into the mix in front of goal where Lee Casciaro was on hand to prod the ball home. The giddy celebrations of the equaliser belied the feeling that this match was now there for the taking.
A shock looked even more possible when Joseph Chipolina found the ball at his feet close to goal not long after the equaliser. Sadly for Gibraltar, his point blank effort was saved by Cypriot keeper Kostas Panayi, and the chance had gone.
That had been the real chance to push on, as a few minutes later the Cyprus lead was restored by Pieros Sotiriou in the 65th minute. After that Cyprus kept the lead a bit more comfortably as the Gibraltarians began to tire. Things got worse when Jayce Oliveiro was sent off for a second yellow card ten minutes from the end. What had been an opportunity for a point had now become a step too far, a fact underlined when Valentinos Sielis made it 3-1 near the end.
Come this way for highlights…
A valiant effort then, with positives aplenty in terms of the way the team performed and competed. What this does mean is that come the return fixture in June, Gibraltar will know they have nothing to fear from the Cypriots and can go all out for a positive result in that one as with the home match against Estonia next October.
Before then, they must travel away to a sterner test in Bosnia-Herzegovina; a fixture that it would be unlikely for Gibraltar to achieve anything other than gallant defeat.
Elsewhere in Group H, Belgium beat Estonia 8-1 to emphasise their credentials as the likeliest qualifier from this group, whilst simultaneously demonstrating how weak Estonia are, although they are the first to score against Belgium so far. Small consolation, I suspect. Meanwhile Greece and Bosnia drew 1-1 in Piraeus, keeping the Greeks as the team best placed to challenge Belgium.
This Cyprus victory represented their first points of the group, and they sit 3 points ahead of Gibraltar, along with Estonia.
Europe Group H Standings: