Gibraltar plays its toughest match yet on home soil today as it faces the Republic of Ireland.
Gibraltar’s national team looked relaxed but focused yesterday as they started their final training session under the spotlight of visiting camera crews and media.
Gibraltar’s head coach, Julio Ribas, was quick to point out the significance and importance of playing in Gibraltar with a home crowd which, for once, was larger than the away crowd.
He appeared at a pre-match press conference alongside striker Tjay De Barr, 19, and asked the young player to explain who the squad was playing for.
“We play for every single Gibraltarian,” De Barr said.
Asked if home advantage would give them a better chance, he said: “One hundred per cent.”
“Looking back four years ago and looking now, we have bettered ourselves massively and I believe we have got a chance.”
“You’ve got to believe that in any game, you can win, we got to believe that.”
Ribas added: “Ireland are obviously one of the 30 best teams in the world, they have got a great team and we know we need to be prepared. We are here to do our best.
The match, which kicks off at 6pm, will be the first Euro qualifiers to be played on the Rock since Gibraltar joined UEFA.
For the first time, and after playing against the Republic of Ireland twice before, Gibraltar will have the advantage in relation to home fans, with over 1500 local fans allocated tickets for the match compared to the 720 sold to Ireland.
The Gibraltar national team has maintained a low profile in recent days yesterday attending their last training session early in the morning before they headed back to their hotel.
Gibraltar will be looking to make the best of its home advantage to cause an upset in what many pundits already believe will be a Republic of Ireland win.
Following their two wins in the Nations League, Gibraltar hopes to better their performances against the Republic of Ireland, whose results have seen them dropped a category within UEFA Nations League.
Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy is under pressure to achieve a good result in the wake of recent games in which the team has had problems scoring.
Yesterday evening, McCarthy dismissed any suggestion that today’s match would deliver an easy three points.
He described Gibraltar as “technically capable” and said: “I really do feel we have to give them the respect they deserve.”
Initial concerns over the reaction by the Irish team over the artificial pitch at the Victoria Stadium were dismissed by Ireland’s coach who said: “It only affects you if you allow it to affect you.”
McCarthy also described Gibraltar’s hospitality as “very gracious”.
Hotels across Gibraltar were already reported to have been fully booked as Irish fans travelled to the Rock, with hotels in neighbouring La Linea also reporting full occupancy.
With over 1500 fans expected to make their journey to Gibraltar, the match is seen as a potential one-day boom for Gibraltar’s leisure and catering sector.
Just 720 tickets were allocated to Irish fans, all of which have already sold out. That means most of the travelling fans will be facing watching the match on screens around the Rock.
Bars and restaurants across Gibraltar prepared for today, with many local and Irish supporters expected to use the fan zone at Casemates and other bars in the area to watch the match.
A large police deployment is expected across the main areas where fans will be congregating, with the RGP ready to manage the large influx of fans and ensure they everyone can safely enjoy their day.
Although initial figures had indicated up to 4,000 fans could arrive in Gibraltar, this was based on a risk-assessment provided by football security experts and is likely to be an overestimate, local security officials involved with the match acknowledged.
One official commented: “This is likely to be one of the biggest tests for the police as it involves football fans coming to Gibraltar on a large scale.”
Irish fans are well known across international football for their friendly nature.
Flying in on Thursday evening in a private chartered flight Mick McCarthy’s squad was met by a police escort which took them to their local hotel. Already Irish fans had gathered around the airport to meet the team.
As Irish fans arrived, the Gibraltar FA called for local support asking for supporters to fly the Gibraltar flag.