They are teachers, coast guards or customs agents, and they will face the French team on Saturday (8:45 p.m.) at the Allianz Riviera in Nice. Gibraltar's players, most of them amateurs, are seeing the end of painful qualifiers, whose results (6 defeats) are the opposite of those of the Blues (6 victories), already qualified for Euro 2024. In addition to almost zero stakes, France will have difficulty motivating itself against one of the weakest nations in the world.
“Respect the opponent”, “do the job”, “put the ingredients in”: Didier Deschamps abused clichés last Monday at Clairefontaine to keep his flock concerned. But he had to admit it: “No matter how much we warn, we must not dream. […] I understand that they (the players) have no concerns about Saturday's match. We cannot fight against nature, but we will have to do it.” We will have to force ourselves to take seriously a team with 44 qualifying matches, Euro and World Cup combined, for a record of… 44 defeats.
We must have some measure, obviously, with Gibraltar, whose surface area (6.8 km²) is equivalent to those of the towns of Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis) or Armentières (North), and the population (33,000 inhabitants) that of Epinal (Vosges). A British territory still claimed by Spain today, Gibraltar waited until 2013 for its UEFA membership and its first official match, a draw against Slovakia (0-0). An authentic performance against the 60th nation in the world at the time.
Gibraltar has only won 8 of its 82 official matches, with 30 goals scored and 271 conceded. His most prestigious victory? It was October 13, 2018 in Armenia (101st in the world at the time), 0-1 success in the Nations League. Glorious times, because the year 2023 is very dark. Gibraltar is on its way to ending the year with zero goals scored, an unheard of in its history. France, the Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, Wales and even Malta beat him without conceding a goal.
Not easy when the two top scorers in the history of the selection, Liam Walker and Roy Chipolina, still active, have as many goals (5) as Benjamin Pavard in Blue. Most Gibraltarian internationals play in the weak local championship. “You are going to be at a low level of National (3rd French level), or even N2,” assessed Maxime Agnoly, French player who played for Gibraltar (2018-19), for Le Figaro last June.
At the dawn of discovering the Nice pitch, Gibraltar is 198th (out of 207) in the FIFA rankings, ahead of the Bahamas and behind East Timor. Five months earlier, France's 0-3 victory had impressed no one. Winning by a similar or smaller margin this Saturday would have a bitter taste for the Blues. Let them take advantage of it: they will perhaps never encounter such minor adversity again.