Gonçalves hails historic gold medal

but condemns ‘xenophobia’


PANORAMA INTERVIEW                                                                                         

By Mark Viales

1st August 2018

The Gibraltar U18s basketball team made history last week by winning a gold medal in the FIBA U18s Women’s European Championship Division C, held in Andorra. This is the first time a Gibraltar Women’s team has made it to podium position, with the highest previous finish at fifth place. The achievement holds even greater standing, considering that Gibraltar was labelled as ‘minnows’ of the tournament and had one of the youngest squads.

John Gonçalves, Gibraltar Amateur Basketball Association President, was overjoyed by the ‘unexpected’ win and spoke to PANORAMA on the mental strength of the young side. However, he was also disappointed that some sectors of Gibraltarian society were critical of the team, which includes a number of Spanish players and one Canadian. Mr Gonçalves wished to put right what he considers ‘borderline xenophobic’ comments and bring to light the fact that Gibraltar works well within FIBA rules.

How proud are you of this achievement?

I did not expect this, possibly out of ignorance as we have participated in female FIBA competitions since 1989 and we have never even made it to the bronze level game. The best position we achieved was fifth and I did not think that this team was strong enough because of the high level of the U18s female category.

But you were pleasantly surprised.

Oh it was more than that I would say. I was shell-shocked, particularly because of the poor result in the first match against Moldova. Gibraltar could have won the match in my opinion were it not for a lack of confidence and a bit of a scrappy performance. They were totally overawed by the situation, but we must take into account that many of the players had never competed at that level.

Were many of them not also quite young for their age group?

Well, four of them are eligible to play for the U16’s next year. Of the 12 players who travelled to Andorra, nine of them will still be available for the U18s squad. The future is good, especially considering the experience they have gained from this competition.

Do you think the players loosened up for the second game?

I think that they may have felt less pressure, but they were extremely annoyed with themselves because of the first result. All matches are filmed and passed to the coaches on a USB stick. Needless to say that the coach spent hours with the team analysing their mistakes. There is no better way to correct mistakes than physically showing the players where they went wrong. I spoke to a few the next morning and they were raring to go.

At which stage of the competition did you fell that something special could be achieved in Andorra?

Things began to turn around in my head on the second day when Gibraltar completely crushed the home team, who were one of the favourites, by 30 points. The stadium holds 7,000 fans and, although it was not completely filled, you could see faces on all sides but the whole capacity crowd fell silent when Gibraltar went 21-6 in the first quarter. The rest is history.

It really takes some guts to come off such a disappointing result and then beat the hosts.

You would have had to have seen it to believe it. In the third game Gibraltar faced the hot favourites in the form of Malta. Most of their players were 17 or 18 years-of-age and they thrashed us by 24 points. Unfortunately we reverted back to our bad habits that were prevalent in the first game. In the end the team gave up mentally. Fortunately, however, the victory against Andorra was enough to qualify for the playoff stage.

Then it was up against Moldova again, and revenge was on the cards, but not at first as the girls were ten points down in the first half before a stunning three-pointer knocked it down to seven.

How crucial was that three-pointer in the context of the game?

You hit the nail on the head. It was very crucial because they went into the break with a sense of belief. I was watching the match alongside the Secretary General of the Maltese Federation, who is a longstanding friend, and told him that Gibraltar was heading for another thrashing. But he disagreed and said that it would be Gibraltar facing Malta in the final.

The girls were extremely rejuvenated for the third quarter and beat them 19-3, turning the game around and eventually winning by 16 points. All hell broke loose because this guaranteed a medal position for a Gibraltar female basketball team for the first time ever. There were tears of joy and heartfelt embraces. I have been to many tournaments with many Gibraltar national sides, but this is a real team with total team spirit.

So, on to the final, how did the added pressure affect the team?

The pressure was off and it now fell squarely on Maltese shoulders as tournament favourites. I am close friends with the coach, who has a fantastic Maltese name, Sandro Farrugia. He approached me before the match to wish us luck and confessed ‘I am so scared of your team. If they have a good day then they are unbeatable’. This was quite a statement and a sign of things to come. 

We never fell behind in the final. We were level at times but never behind. The distance between the scoreline was minimal and emotions were high. I sat at the back of the stand in order not to make a scene as I get very passionate during matches, especially the national teams. But I could no longer hold back when we entered the final five minutes. Our coach made some substitutions that I was not in agreement with and I made my feelings known. I behaved like a hooligan I must admit.

Do you still stand by your comments to the coach?

Yes, absolutely, and I told him that, but he said that he disagreed with my analysis. Sport is full of opinions but the most important thing is that we won in the end of the day.

What do you make of public criticism from certain sectors of Gibraltar’s society on the team using foreign players from Spain and elsewhere?

Everybody is entitled to their own opinions and I accept criticism when it is warranted. The criticism that we have been subjected to in the last few weeks is made by people who are ignorant of the situation. It smacks me of extreme nationalism and sometimes bordering on xenophobic. Unfortunately those people who criticise us in this way do not realise that we are playing within the rules of basketball.

Of the four ‘minis or city states’ involved in FIBA (Gibraltar, Andorra, San Marino and Monaco), we are the ones who have made the less use of this facility. I know that this will still not please those who criticise us. They are not just Spanish players. We currently have a Canadian in our side and we have had a Dutch national and an American in the past.

There are three options when approaching a tournament like this one. We can take a credible team picked from players eligible to play or pick an exclusively local team, which would have been a very young team that would have included 12 or 13-year-olds. That would have been a horrendous choice and could have killed the sport for these particular girls. Their experience would have been so traumatic that they probably would have given up the sport. The third option is to not compete at all.

How much do these foreign players embrace Gibraltar’s colours?

I would have loved to have shown all these people who have criticised the Spanish girls in our team that they were in full embrace and celebration with their Gibraltarian teammates. Furthermore, they held the Gibraltar flag up high and with pride. They were all together. We also have a Canadian girl in our side who ended up scoring the highest number of rebounds in the tournament with 72 points. She also finished third in the overall efficiency rankings in the tournament.

Some of our Spanish players have taken part in basketball locally since they were eight-years-old. She held the Gibraltar flag high above her head with extreme pride when the team won the final.

The hotel was around a kilometre from the stadium, so our players would walk together in full Gibraltar uniform, brandishing our national flag and singing ‘Llévame Donde Nací’ all along the way. There were many locals who cheered them along which was an amazing sight to see.

Would you prefer to field a team of Gibraltarians if it was viable?

Of course I would, but these girls play with their hearts on their sleeve and embrace our national colours. They do not do things in half measures and they help our development tremendously. The younger players practice alongside them and we have seen their development come on leaps and bounds.

We do not do this to upset anybody. We are extremely proud of their achievement but I am also happy that, despite the criticism, which has affected both the Gibraltarian and foreign girls, they have managed to put it behind them and make Gibraltar proud.

Rock-Solid Gibraltar celebrate maiden title in Andorra
29 July 2018

ANDORRA LA VELLA (FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018, Division C) – Gibraltar lifted the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018, Division C for the first time after delivering a seismic 56-49 upset against the previously undefeated Malta in Sunday's drama-packed battle for the trophy.

After placing third in the Group Phase, the Franisco Zafra Ruiz-coached Gibraltar upped their game for the medal round to climb atop the podium in Andorra la Vella with back-to-back wins against higher-seeded opponents. 

Having caught Moldova off guard in the Semi-Final, the rock-solid Gibraltar dominated from start to finish against Malta as well, with their advantage even reaching double figures at one point.

Marta Perez Castro posted an 18-point, 9-rebound and 5-assist performance, Mireya Benitez Lopez collected 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while Emily Feeke finished with 6 points and an incredible 25 rebounds. 

For Malta, Michela Zammit Cordina and Anthea Micallef were the only player in double-figures, with 13 and 10 points, respectively.

The triumph in Andorra was a landmark moment for women's basketball in Gibraltar, who had never placed on the podium in a FIBA competition for women.

The tournament hosts Andorra also found a happy ending, defeating Moldova 55-41 in the Third-Place Game to claim bronze, with Lies Bosma Cortes leading the way with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks.

Julia Marquez Tomas chipped in with 13 points, while Carla Solana Perez had her fingerprints all over the win with 6 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 11 steals and 3 blocked shots.

On the opposite end of the floor, Maria Terzi and Olga Cozonac had 11 points apiece for Moldova, who had to settle for fourth place after missing out on the podium.



Gibraltar upset Moldova, join Malta in the Final
28 July 2018

ANDORRA LA VELLA (FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018, Division C) – Malta and Gibraltar booked a date in the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018, Division C title duel after securing Semi-Final wins in Andorra la Vella on Saturday evening.

Having completed the Group Phase without a defeat, Malta extended their winning streak with a 52-44 triumph over the tournament hosts Andorra, with Kristy Galea collecting 16 points and 7 rebounds in a winning effort.

Anthea Micallef and Michela Zammit Cordina also entered double-digit territory for Malta, while Andorra's Julia Marquez Tomas finished the contest with a game-high 21 points and 7 rebounds.

In the other Semi-Final, the lower-seeded Gibraltar clipped Moldova 57-41 with a powerful second-half performance to get revenge for the defeat in the Group Phase. After outscoring their Moldovan rivals 19-3 in the third quarter and 34-11 in the last two quarters combined, the Gibraltarian side cruised to an easy win despite entering the second half of play with a 30-23 deficit.

Marta Perez Castro had a team-high 14 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals, while teammate Mireya Benitez Lopez chipped in with 13 points for Gibraltar. On the other end of the floor, Maria Timbalari had a 13-point and 16-rebound double-double for Moldova.

The two Finalists, Gibraltar and Malta, already faced each other once in the Group Phase, with the Michela Zammit Cordina-led Maltese side coming out on top, 77-53, in a one-sided game.