GFA Rock Cup Final
Lincoln Red Imps FC vs College Europa FC
10th May 2014
Pictures by snaprimages
The showpiece event in Gibraltar’s football calendar saw a fiercely contested Rock Cup Final between league and cup winners Lincoln Red Imps and this season most revamped side, College Europa FC.
The game itself was played in the sweltering heat down at a packed Victoria Stadium in front of the GFA’s guest of honor, UEFA president Michel Platini along with Deputy Secretary General Theodore Theodoris, Head of Football Development Jean Francois Domergue, and Head of President’s Office Kevin Lamour. Lincoln had already secured Champions League football for next season as league winners with the major debate, which at time of writing, surrounded who should be entitled to the Europa League spot.
Lincoln Red Imps
Manager Mick McElwee fielded a strong starting 11 in a 4-3-3 formation which included their regular central defensive partnership of Roy Chipolina and Ryan Casciaro flanked by 2 young, energetic and marauding full backs in Alain Pons and Jean Carlos Garcia. The a latter having been awarded the GFT Young player of the season acolade. Mark Casciaro was deployed in his preferred and natural deep lying playmaker role and was somewhat surprisingly selected ahead of Lincoln skipper Daniel Duarte. Alongside him in midfield were Joseph Chipolina and Liam Clarke, two players who’s energy and attacking abilities are highly regarded in the local game and they were tasked with linking the play with Lincoln’s very sharp attacking front 3 which included newly crowned GFT player of the season and top goal scorer, John Paul Duarte.
On the bench Lincoln had the luxury of 2 experienced and established internationals in Aaron Payas and Lee Casciaro, with the latter having been out of action for 7 months due to a knee injury picked up in the first game of the season against Lynx F.C. and which required surgery. It could be argued this season that Lincoln’s style of play has been more direct than in previous seasons where they have preferred a more possession orientated approach.
This season however, the direct approach has worked well for them in order to take advantage of the pace they offer in the final third of the pitch. This style of play also compliments the long ball playing ability of their deeper lying players namely Ryan Casciaro, who can certainly ping a ball ‘a la Paul Scholes’ and he is probably regarded as the best in the league at doing this. Another characteristic of Lincoln’s play is their emphasis on width being supplied by their full backs which is used to great effect as it is clear that McElwee grants them license to attack when the opportunity presents itself. Lincoln certainly have the ability to easily revert to the possession based approach in order to grind down the opposition and that’s when they can take advantage and assert their domination on games. Clever infield movements of their wide players create a numerical advantage which disorganizes opponents in the centre of the pitch. Naturally the width is provided by their exciting young full backs and this has been a major attribute of Lincoln’s attacking play this season. It must be noted that all of the above shows the signs of a good team playing to their strengths with the right players in their strongest positions in order to maximize their chances of success. It’s no surprise that they have been the most dominant side in Gibraltar football within the last decade.
College’s starting formation for this game could have been interpreted as a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 which are both tactical variants of the 4-4-2 however the way in which these can be set out and implemented can vary considerably and is dependent on how the manager would like his team to play. Manager Perez Herrera fielded his strongest side possible from the players at his disposal with his default central defensive partnership of Tunisian Aymen Mouelhi and promising local youngster Ethan Jolley. Both centre backs complement each other well and both have had good consistent seasons. In the centre of midfield the tenacious and tactically astute Argentinean Leandro Pereyra was partnered with Jamie Bosio who has become a regular starter for the 2nd half of the season.
Montovio and Toncheff started out on the flanks for College with the skilful veteran Joseph Chipol deployed in the ‘trequartista’ role behind sharp and tricky striker, “Tostao”. During the first half of this season College’s emphasis and foundation was built on defensive and tactical organization and credit here must go to previous manager Manolo “El Chupete” Nuñez however this seemed to be his downfall as their attacking abilities seemed to suffer slightly. Current manager, Perez Herrera, seems to have found the right balance between defense and attack and has got the team playing with greater confidence in the attacking phase. He also puts emphasis and wants his side to press and push higher up onto their opponents in order to win the ball back as close to the opposition goal as possible to maximize their goal scoring threat. College also have the ability to apply a direct approach to their game focusing their play around powerful Argentinean forward Christian Toncheff, who’s strength, ability and awareness to hold the ball for supporting players is arguably the best in the league.
Due to the magnitude of the occasion, it was clear that both sides started the game nervously as neither could really take control or assert their authority on the game in the opening stages. It was evident that the College manager wanted to press high and put Lincoln under intense pressure as soon as possible in order to force mistakes which would then allow them to recover the ball as close to their opponents goal as possible. Their formation at this stage was more of an aggressive 4-2-4 with their four front players pushing up high onto the Lincoln back line. In order to try and discourage College from doing this, Lincoln adopted their preferred direct approach by focusing their play down both flanks utilizing the pace and power of both Kyle Casciaro and John Paul Duarte. Lincoln’s system of a 4-3-3 allowed them to enjoy a 3v2 overload in their favour in midfield throughout the first half. It seemed pretty clear that Chipol, in the trequartista role, had no instruction or intention to drop into midfield to at least match up to Lincoln’s 3 midfield players and this allowed Mark Casciaro time and space on the ball at every opportunity. As mentioned earlier, Lincoln can easily adapt their game to become possession orientated so when they have a numerical advantage in the centre of midfield, they can keep and recycle possession for fun.
As the game progressed Lincoln slowly started to dominate the proceedings and they had the first real chance of the game when John Paul Duarte blazed over from about 10 yards at the far post after a Kyle Casciaro cross eluded everyone in the box. Almost immediately, the game’s best chance was brilliantly saved from College keeper, Matt Cafer, as he thwarted Joseph Chipolina’s 1 on 1 effort following a perfectly weighted defense splitting pass between College’s centre backs by John Paul Duarte.
The pattern of the game became pretty clear after Lincoln’s early chances as they started to grow in confidence and were seeing much more of the ball with College continuing to press high when the Lincoln defense had possession. Lincoln are certainly the strongest team in the league in terms of possession football so once they managed to play through the high press of College is was pretty easy for them to build attacks both centrally, but primarily down both flanks. Both Garcia and Pons had very good games as they buccaneered forward to create 2v1 overloads on the flanks which was aided by the fact that College’s wide players did not track their direct opponents. The danger of this is that extra emphasis is then placed on the central midfielders to come across to assist the exposed full backs which then creates a gap in the centre of midfield for the opponent to dominate even further. Perhaps the best option for College in this game would have been to sit deep and defend with 2 banks of four along with their attacking midfielder to drop onto the deep lying playmaker to try and restrict his influence as much as possible converting their shape into a 4-5-1. By doing this they could have contained and frustrated Lincoln with focus on counter attacking with pace and power as soon as possession was recovered. College have 2 quick and powerful players in “Tostao” and Toncheff so this tactical approach would most likely have caused Lincoln far greater problems as they would have slowly pushed further forward due to College’s deep defensive organization. The 2nd leg of the champions league semi final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid is a perfect example of a matchup between 2 teams with completely different tactical approaches. As we all know Real Madrid defended as a unit and very compactly and were able to frustrate Bayern and win the ball back in good areas of the field. They provided a real master class in counterattacking football as they caused Bayern all sorts of problems going forward who’s primary focus was to try and breakdown the opposition with possession football. This is the problem for a team who don’t have a plan B however in this game it was clear that Lincoln could have used two different plans i.e. the direct approach or the possession based approach and it was the former which was preferred by the league champions.
College’s best performers on the day were certainly their central defensive partnership of Aymen Mouelhi and Ethan Jolley who both had very solid games and continually dealt with Lincoln’s crosses from the flanks. Unfortunately for College they carried little threat in the attacking phase as their use of the ball when was possession was won was not effective enough. Lincoln continued to recover possession easily. The games next half chance fell to Kyle Casciaro but fortunately for College he blazed wide at the back post from 12 yards as a cross from the advanced Garcia bypassed everyone in the area. Lincoln continued to focus their play out wide and on one occasion exposed College right back Aiden Victor brilliantly as he was caught up field after losing possession. Ryan Casciaro played a glorious long ball to Joseph Chipolina who had drifted over to the College right hand side looking to take advantage of the space that had opened up. He played a ball through to a buccaneering Kyle Casciaro however his cross into the box proved ineffective and was dealt with by the College centre backs. It was rather surprising that the College manager did nothing to at least try and restrict Lincoln’s wide play.
The College manager made his first tactical adjustment of the game around the half hour mark as he switched his captain, Robert Montovio with “Tostao”. Out of College’s front 4 attacking players Montovio is probably the only one who carries some defensive awareness so it was as bold move by the manager to remove him from the flank but his thinking was a positive one. “Tostao” is a pacey and tricky player so the move over to the left side of midfield made sense to try and expose Garcia once College regained possession. However, their ability to effectively use possession was very limited by a well organised Lincoln side.
The ball was in the net just before half time but was promptly disallowed by referee Jason Barcelo as George Cabreras effort from 12 yards went through a crowd of players. The referee deemed the goal offside as 2 Lincoln players were in offside positions and blocking the College goalkeepers line of sight. Almost immediately College themselves had a goal ruled for offside. A neat ball was played through to Robert Motonvio who put the ball into the net after he penetrated and exposed Lincoln’s right side well. The linesman was quick to raise his flag with some questioning whether Montovio was in fact offside. The half ended a 0-0 stalemate however Lincoln were looking the more likely to break the deadlock.
The 2nd half started with an early College chance as Christian Toncheff latched onto a free kick which arrived to him in the area but Jordan Perez managed to deny the Argentinian with a smart save. It was interesting to see that College had now moved to a 4-3-3 to match up to Lincoln in the centre of midfield to try and limit their influence in possession. This system still encourages a team to press high up with the front three spread out across the back four however if the 2 front wide players are not in peak physical condition and are not defensively smart, the system can completely fall apart as both the flanks and the centre of midfield can become completely exposed. This was the pattern in the 2nd half as Lincoln dominated possession further and seemed to have greater freedom down the flanks as both College’s wide players failed to track back. The College manger instructed his goalkeeper to go long as soon as possible during the first 15mins of the second half to try and put the Lincoln defense under pressure to try and force errors from them. This proved ineffective as the Lincoln defense managed to easily deal with this style of play and this tactic was soon proved unsuccessful. As Lincoln continued on the front foot, Liam Clarke had a great chance to put Lincoln in the lead but he blazed over from 12 yards as a poorly cleared corner from College fell perfectly for Lincoln’s attacking midfielder. College had a good chance to open the scoring from a direct free kick 25 yards out however Toncheff’s effort was sent wide.
With UEFA President, MIchel Platini looking on, The 2nd half became very flat as College now decided to drop deeper as it was clear that they were more than happy to take the game into extra time and penalties. As the game reached the latter stages, Lincoln were overwhelmingly dominating possession as they tried everything to get the goal that would win them the Rock Cup. That moment came in the 90th minute when a long throw by Joseph Chipolina, was flicked on by Roy Chipolina, and the ball was met by Liam Clarke who managed to direct the ball into the College keepers right hand post.
This proved to be the winning goal as referee Barcelo promptly blew for full time as College restarted the game. There were interesting scenes at the final whistle as the College contingent were seen celebrating as if they had won the trophy however this was related to the Europa League qualification as they felt that they are the ones who have rightly qualified for next seasons competition. It turned out days later, College Europa were in fact elected into the Europa League as per 2014/15 Europa League regulations.
An intense game which saw Lincoln emerge as the winners. The game, especially in the 2nd half was pretty flat and dull at times and credit must not only go to Lincoln here for completing yet another clean sweep but also to College who made life tough for their opponents and were perhaps hard done by the winning goal scored right at the death. They defended admirably with Aymen Mouelhi and Ethan Jolley putting in very solid performances however they could not build on this as their attacking play and chance creation was average at best. Credit must also go to the College manager, Perez Herera, as he was not afraid in shifting his side around to try and identify the best way of causing Lincoln problems however this proved unrewarding as Lincoln continually exposed the College flanks time and time again to take advantage of the poor defensive awareness shown by College’s wide players. Fortunately for College, Lincoln weren’t as clinical in front of goal as they have been throughout the majority of the season. College could have altered their tactical approach to a more contain and counter one which could have caused Lincoln more problems going forward instead of pressing them so high up as Lincoln continually played through the press with consummate ease. One of Lincoln’s weakness over the years has been when they have become increasingly frustrated and under pressure which can make them vulnerable. By adopting this approach College could have caused greater problems for Lincoln but only if their use of possession was far more effective in their attacking transition. Overall a deserved win for Lincoln who have once again set the bench mark for the other teams to aim for next season.
GFT MOTM – Liam Clarke (Lincoln)
The attacking midfielder was involved in pretty much every Lincoln move as he continually showed great energy and fitness levels and linked play well. This was especially the case with with Pons and Kyle Casciaro down the left side. He always went looking for the ball to try and make something happen so it was only fitting that he grabbed the game’s only goal. It’s a shame that Gibraltar manager Bula has not included him in the recent senior squads for both friendlies coming up as he could certainly offer a different dimension to Gibraltar’s attacking play.