Minnows must be rock solid
Gibraltar stay on steep learning curve with Dublin tie
THE big game for midfielder Jake Gosling last weekend was a meeting in the Conference of Bristol Rovers and Dover Athletic.
Next Saturday the stakes will be a bit higher, with European Championship points at stake. As one of the few full-time players in the Gibraltar squad which takes on Ireland in Dublin next weekend, a lot of the weight will fall on a player like Gosling as Gibraltar who were beaten 7-0 at home to Poland in their opening game of the group, also their first-ever competitive senior international.
And even though he has had more of a grounding in the full-time scene from his spells with clubs like Plymouth and Exeter, the Gibraltarian admits that Saturday will be a big challenge for his squad under coach Allen Bula.
"It's a big leap from the games we have, against Eastleigh and Dover, to a Euro qualifier away to Ireland," Gosling told The Herald as the Gibraltar squad this week begin preparations for their big game in Dublin.
"Hopefully we can do better than we did against Poland in the last game.
"I don't think we gave a good account of ourselves in the Poland match and we are eager to put that right against Ireland in Dublin.
"We have to learn quickly that we are on the big stage now, we are playing against these teams now. We have to learn very quickly and it's not easy because of the standard of teams and players we are up against."
That debut as a nation in the Euro qualifiers was a chastening experience for Gibraltar as Poland knocked seven past them, and the home fans in Dublin next Saturday will expect a big return of goals as well.
"Even though Ireland don't have as many so-called world-class players as maybe Germany do, they still have a squad that is better and stronger than us," says the Bristol Rovers man.
"But we will try to treat every team the same. Germany are a step above Ireland as they are world champions and they have all those Champions League players but we won't approach the Ireland game any differently from the German match. We have our standards and we have to try and reach them in every game we play."
While Martin O'Neill has bemoaned, as did Giovanni Trapattoni before him, the lack of an Irish presence at the top clubs in England, Gibraltar are much worse off.
Preston man Scott Wiseman is the only member of the Gibraltar squad who is currently with a football league club in England, while Gosling - who earns his wages with Conference side Bristol Rovers - is the next in terms of standard, with a third English-based player (Adam Priestley at Farsley) further down the ranks in the non-league scene. Gosling will miss a game for his club next weekend but that's fine with him.
"It's strange for a club in the Conference to be missing a player for a league game due to international duty in the Euro qualifiers, but the club have been very helpful and very supportive and always let me go away for the Gibraltar games without any issue," he says.
Gosling, 21, has already written himself into the history books with his nation's football team as his strike for Gibraltar in Estonia earlier this year was the country's first away goal.
"It was a nice feeling to score that goal and a very proud moment for me and my career," he says. "It was good to get the personal achievement of the goal but it was made even better by the fact that it was a good result for us, a 1-1 draw away to an Estonian side who made the play-offs for Euro 2012.
"I wasn't born in Gibraltar but my dad was. And I was really proud to be asked to play for Gibraltar, it was a big deal for me and for my family," says Gosling, who was recruited to the national squad after they were finally admitted to UEFA.
"My agent got on the case, he got in touch with the Gibraltar FA and it went from there. The coach with Gibraltar had a look at me, they asked me to join the squad and it went from there, I am a member of the national team squad now.
"I haven't spent much time there, I have to admit. I have been to Gibraltar for a few training camps and it's not ideal that for this campaign we have to play our home matches in Portugal but I hope that when we get our pitch and stadium built in Gibraltar itself we can really base ourselves there.
"I think every player would love the chance to play international football and I am delighted that I got the honour of doing that with Gibraltar, it's a very proud feeling, to be an international player and it's even more special when you play in competitive games, as we did against Poland last month and as we will do again on Saturday in Dublin.
"We are excited about the group, it's not every day that you get to play against nations like Ireland, Scotland and Germany, play against players like (Robert) Lewandowski. Of course, we would love to get a win in Dublin but being more realistic, we can aim for a point.
"That will be very, very hard to do, but we have to go and try. A point in Dublin would be an exceptional result for us."