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Cymru’s embarressing goalless draw against Gibraltar

Cymru endured one of the most humiliating results in their history as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Gibraltar, a team ranked 203rd in the world. Despite Gibraltar’s dismal record of losing their previous 13 games by an aggregate score of 50-0, Cymru failed to secure a victory against one of the weakest sides in international football.

This low-key friendly, played at Gibraltar’s temporary home in Portugal, has done little to boost the reputation of Cymru manager Rob Page. The Football Association of Wales had shown their support for Page following the team’s failure to qualify for Euro 2024, but discontent among fans is likely to grow after this disappointing result. Gibraltar’s draw marked their first match avoiding defeat since beating Andorra in November 2022.

Page fielded a youthful side with a total of just 44 caps. The match ended in frustration at the Estadio Algarve, with Brennan Johnson, Daniel James, and Kieffer Moore all on the pitch, desperately seeking a goal.

Liverpool’s teenager, Lewis Koumas, came off the bench for the final 17 minutes and nearly scored six minutes later, only to be denied by Gibraltar goalkeeper Jaylan Hankins.

This encounter was only the second between the two nations, with Cymru having comfortably won 4-0 in their previous meeting last October in Wrexham.

Bolton midfielder Josh Sheehan captained the team, earning his sixth cap and first start. Full-backs Fin Stevens and Jay Dasilva also made their debuts, along with 17-year-old Leeds midfielder Charlie Crew. None of the starting line-up had played in the Premier League in the recently concluded season.

Rabbi Matondo, the most experienced player in the squad with 10 caps, posed an early threat with his pace. Ben Cabango headed over from a Sheehan corner as Cymru struggled to break down Gibraltar’s resolute defence.

Gibraltar defended deep, content to sit back with the game largely taking place in their own half. Wes Burns impressed on the right flank, but was unable to steer Charlie Savage’s pass past the onrushing Hankins. Sheehan was booked for a high challenge on Tjar De Barr by Northern Irish referee Jamie Robinson, a foul that might have warranted a harsher punishment in a competitive match.

Cymru increased the tempo after the half-hour mark, with Hankins saving a well-struck low shot from Liam Cullen and Cabango heading over once more. Matondo also had a shot blocked, and Gibraltar reached half-time with their goal intact, no doubt pleased with their first-half performance.

Sheehan’s set-pieces caused problems for Gibraltar, with Joe Low missing a close-range chance and Sheehan’s corner hitting the inside of the post. Page introduced James, Johnson, and Moore on the hour mark to add urgency to the attack.

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The pressure grew, with Savage’s shot being blocked and Bernardo Lopes clearing Cabango’s header off the line. Koumas, who had scored debut goals for Liverpool and Cymru Under-21s in recent months, nearly found a fairy-tale finish, but was again thwarted by Hankins. The final whistle was met with jeers from the travelling fans, disappointed by Cymru’s lacklustre performance.

Page faced criticism after Cymru were humiliated at home by Armenia last year and went on to miss out on qualification for Euro 2024, and the reception he got in Portugal after the Gibraltar game was the most hostile he has received so far.

“They are entitled to their opinion, absolutely. I get it, I completely get it,” Page said when asked about being booed.

“I’m a Welsh supporter as well as the manager, I’m disappointed. But I have to keep saying about the bigger picture and I’ll probably get criticised for that.

“It’s the bigger picture and we’re not going to lose focus on what we’ve done.”

Page’s tenure has been one of huge highs and lows, from the ecstasy of qualifying for a first World Cup in 64 years to the disappointment of Cymru’s dismal performance at the tournament itself in 2022, and then the despair of failing to qualify for Euro 2024.

Cymru missed out on this summer’s competition in agonising fashion as they lost their play-off final to Poland on penalties in March, but the real damage was done during the regular qualifying campaign.