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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Gibraltar coach Ribas says tiny stadium can fire them to victory

Gibraltar boss Julio Ribas
Gibraltar boss Julio Ribas
Tjay De Barr

Gibraltar believe that home advantage can swing things their way when they face Mick McCarthy's Republic of Ireland in the opening game of the Euro 2020 qualifiers this evening.

And the minnows, rated as the second-worst side in Europe according to the FIFA rankings, feel they have improved since they last played Ireland.

Ireland won 4-0 the last time they played 'away' to Gibraltar, in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but that tie was played in Faro, Portugal, as the Gibraltar FA did not have UEFA clearance to play matches on home soil.

They have since revamped the 2,300-capacity Victoria Stadium, the only playing surface on the Rock and, having hosted games in the Nations League last year, bringing Ireland to the stadium is a big deal.

McCarthy has already expressed his concerns about the artificial pitch at the ground while UEFA raised doubts as recently as this week about the possibility of moving the tie to Portugal - a real prospect at one stage before the Gibraltar FA carried out repair work on the pitch to finally satisfy UEFA's delegates.

Armenia and Liechtenstein have played Nations League games in the Victoria Stadium but Ireland's visit is the biggest occasion to date.

"It's amazing for us to be at home," says Gibraltar coach Julio Ribas. "This is where we live, this is the air that we breathe, this is the place that we want to play our football, in front of our own fans and to try and please them as much as we can.

"It's important for me as a coach that we play at home, to emotionally connect with the crowd. When you play at home the crowd can be the 12th man."

Ribas is a Uruguyan who has been in charge of the side since last year so he was not on the staff when Gibraltar last played Ireland, in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but he feels the team have come on since those games where Ireland won 7-0 and 4-0.

"This is the third game with Ireland but those games are in the past, we want to write our own history now and continue what we started in the Nations League," he said, referring to Gibraltar's wins over Armenia and Liechtenstein last year.

"The performances in the Nations League made the country feel proud but the main thing is that we keep growing."

While Tjay De Barr has signed a pre-contract deal with Spanish second-tier side Real Oviedo and will move next summer, the majority of the Gibraltar squad play in the domestic league.

They will look for goals from Lee Casciaro and Liam Walker: their two international goals making them the joint top scorers in the squad.

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