2018 WCQ (Round 1): Lower ranked Caribbean nations begin Road to Russia

The Road to Russia has officially begun for CONCACAF’s lower-ranked teams as a total of seven two-legged playoffs took place from 22-31 March, with 10 out of the 12 competitors representing the Caribbean at this stage. Here’s the lowdown…

2018 WCQ Banner.

The Home of Caribbean Football’s official banner for our coverage of CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifying. (created via canva.com)

Background: There are five rounds in CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification (WCQ), spanning across 31 months with the first round of action taking place in March 2015 and the last taking place in October 2017. A total of 35 nations are involved in the overall qualification process, 25 of them hailing from the Caribbean. The first three stages work on a two-legged series basis, teams play each other home-and-away with the aggregate score (and away goal rule if necessary) determining who advances, while the ensuing two stages use a group format. The famous “Hex” – which has been going since its inception in 1998 – is the final hurdle and pits the cream of CONCACAF against each other on a home-and-away round-robin group basis. The top three finishers book their ticket for Russia 2018, the fourth-placed team enters a two-legged playoff versus AFC’s fifth-placed team.

The Home of Caribbean Football will be providing extensive coverage on the whole qualification process, covering every game, goal and moment. The last Caribbean country to make it to the World Cup was Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 – can anyone end the region’s 12-year wait this time around?

Note: The countries underlined have advanced to the next round.

Barbados – US Virgin Islands (aggregate 4-1)

22/03 – first leg in Bridgetown: 0-1 (Browne 16′)

Analysis: 

Well who would have predicted that? US Virgin Islands (USVI) defied the odds by beating Barbados to record just their third WCQ win (the other two coming against British Virgin Islands). The victory can be attributed to a large chunk of good fortune and a heroic performance from goalkeeper Erik Mozzo, who saved two penalties and produced a string of great stops. With Barbadian technical director Marcos Falopa of Brazil watching on from the touchline, Barbados were presented with a dream start when attacking midfielder Hadan Holligan was hacked down inside the box, leaving referee Kimbell Ward with little choice other than to point to the spot. Stand-in skipper Mario Harte took responsibility and stepped up but saw his effort pushed onto the post by Mozzo, giving USVI the belief that this could well be their day. The visitors’ goal derived from a long through ball played over the top by Kenan Massicott, which found the fleet-footed Jamie Browne who raced ahead of the defence and lobbed Barbadian shot stopper Dario Weir. It was classic route one football but was enough to catch the opposition off guard.

The two captains collide as Mario Harte (number 9, left) is pressured by Dusty Good. (pic credit: Kenmore Bynoe)

Jomo Harris’ red card just before the hour mark made Barbados’ task of getting back into the game even more difficult, although they were given a second penalty moments later when the same player Holligan was again brought down. This time Romario Harewood placed the ball on the spot and aimed for the top right, only for the inspired Mozzo to tip his shot behind for a corner. At full-time Falopa naturally bemoaned his team’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, while Ahmed Mohammed – a Swiss-Somalian recently appointed as USVI’s new head coach – praised his players for their resilience and spirit. Now the pressure was very much on Barbados to up the ante in the second leg.

26/03 – second leg in Charlotte Amalie: 0-4 (Sargeant 4′, Jamal Chandler 25′, Harte 76′, Jabarry Chandler 90′)

Analysis: 

This was a much more realistic scoreline as Barbados improved their finishing and ultimately reaped the rewards by scoring four goals away from home. On a bobbly surface at Cancryn Field in USVI’s captial Charlotte Amalie, it was hard for both teams to get the ball down and pass it. This resulted in quite a lot of long balls down the channels which suited Barbados much more, with willing runners such as Holligan and Raheim Sargeant able to feed Harte up front. On the day Falopa was much more successful with his team’s tactics – the 65-year-old decided to play captain Emmerson Boyce, who couldn’t make the first leg because of club commitments with Wigan Athletic, in central midfield alongside teenager Sebastian Hunte. Boyce’s experience and leadership qualities helped Barbados to control the middle of the pitch and dominate play.

Barbados’ Ramon Manning (number 13, right) tries to get away from US Virgin Islands’ Tnoy Andrew in the second leg in Charlotte Amalie. (pic credit: CONCACAF)

The Dashing Eagles, on the other hand, struggled to create many clear-cut opportunities as Mohammed opted for one up top in Lorne Maxime Jr, a forward with a diminutive frame which allowed central defenders Ranaldo Bailey and Ricardo Morris to be in charge. Falopa’s men got off to an impressive start when Sargeant, plying his trade with Lancaster City in the eighth tier of English football, peeled away at the far post and nodded home. Jamal Chandler doubled the lead with an emphatic finish from the edge of the box before Harte and Jabarry Chandler sealed the 0-4 victory with goals in the second-half. USVI’s World Cup dreams were shattered, but they could have no complaints on the evidence of their second leg display. It didn’t help that they were missing some players who contributed in the first match – a handful of individuals in the team are very young and therefore had to return to school/college commitments. Full-back Jacob Borden of St Croix, for example, is aged 16. Barbados, meanwhile, became the first country to qualify for the next round of CONCACAF qualification where they’ll meet Aruba in another two-legged series in June.

Standout Player(s):

24-year-old Erik Mozzo has already been mentioned. Born in St Thomas but a resident in the United States since the age of three, he is currently a free agent having previously played high school football in South Carolina. Perhaps for not much longer, however, on the basis of his performance in Bridgetown.

A key component of Barbados’ attack in the two matches was 18-year-old Hadan Holligan who won both penalties in the first leg and showed real promise with his quick thinking and intelligent movement. The teenager represents Weymouth Wales, traditionally one of the most successful clubs in Barbadian football, with 16 league titles to their name.

View From The Inside:

Note: All the quotes used for the ‘View From The Inside’ feature were independently collected by The Home of Caribbean Football.

“The win in Barbados can be a stepping stone for the national programme. The biggest reason for hope is the experience gained by the young USVI players, such as 16-year-old Jacob Borden. The key will be to get those young guys playing and training at high levels on a consistent basis, a great challenge in the Caribbean. If they help those guys develop, it’s an indication they’re serious about being consistently competitive.” Matt Schoch (Virgin Islands Daily News sports editor and attendee of the second leg in Charlotte Amalie)

“The Barbadians never lived up to the lofty expectations of the booming home crowd in the first leg and lost in embarrassing style. However, we fully outshone our opponents in the ensuing fixture with high-intensity attacking football. Emmerson Boyce added much-needed steel and leadership.” Nick Maitland (Bajan football pundit, writer and coach)

St Kitts & Nevis – Turks & Caicos Islands (aggregate 12-4)

23/03 – first leg in Basseterre: 6-2 (Harris 17′, Thrizen Leader 43′, Mitchum 45′, 89′, Hanley 67′, O’Loughlin 85′ — Forbes 22′, Thrizen Leader O.G 69′)

Analysis:

St Kitts were made favourites for this match-up as soon as the CONCACAF preliminary draw was made back in mid-January. Having been eliminated from the Caribbean Cup group stages last year because of inferior goal difference, they were eager to get back on the pitch and make progress in this World Cup campaign. Much of the twin-island’s squad consisted of familiar faces, spearheaded by captain Atiba Harris who plays for FC Dallas in the MLS. Standing in their way of achieving qualification to the next round was Turks & Caicos (TCI), who made their first appearance in official FIFA competition back in 2002 WCQ. Ironically, that was against St Kitts in March 2000. They were beaten comprehensively home and away falling to a 14-0 aggregate defeat. Skip forward fifteen years and TCI can take some consolation: at least this time they managed to register four goals.

St. Kitts & Nevis (red jersey) and Turks & Caicos Islands

Zeph Thomas (number 17, on edge of box) takes a long range shot which Turks & Caicos goalkeeper Ian Jones is equal to. (pic credit: FIFA)

At a lively Warner Park in Basseterre, you could tell St Kitts were hungry to make an impression from the outset. Zeph Thomas’ missed penalty early on was a lucky escape for TCI but did little to affect the hosts’ mindset. Minutes later star man Harris surged forward and with the outside of his boot, he found the bottom left corner to send the home crowd wild. A lapse in concentration at the back, though, enabled TCI a path back into the game. Billy Forbes, a stand-out for San Antonio Scorpions in the NASL and arguably his country’s best player, pounced on a moment of hesitation between goalkeeper Julani Archibald and his defenders. But The Sugar Boyz cranked into gear soon after with Thrizen Leader and Orlando Mitchum on target prior to the half-time whistle. Tishan Hanley added extra breathing room before Leader turned the ball into his own net to give TCI a glimmer of hope. That was extinguished with five minutes remaining when Errol O’Loughlin tapped in from close range and Mitchum notched his second to cap off a good evening’s work for manager Jeffrey Hazel’s men. It would have to take a miracle for TCI to engineer a way back into it in Provindenciales.

26/03 – second leg in Providenciales: 2-6 (Calixte PK 4′ PK 14′ Josh Leader 7′ 30′, Panayiotou PK 33′, 55′, 60′, Robbins 73′)

Analysis:

That miracle never came for TCI. The second leg saw a slightly freakish repeat of the first as St Kitts’ prolificacy in front of goal ultimately sent them through. They suffered a scare very early on, though, when Forbes was brought down inside the box and a penalty was awarded. Widlin Calixte converted with aplomb before St Kitts ran up the other end and drew level through Josh Leader. Indeed, there were goals galore in what was a frenetic, end-to-end encounter. The visitors shot themselves in the foot by giving away yet another spot kick which Calixte stuck away. St Kitts roared back through J Leader, completing his double on the half hour mark, and then young Leicester City frontman Harry Panayiotou – a recent addition to the St Kittian setup having joined for the 2014 Caribbean Cup campaign – stole the show by netting a hat-trick. By the time Ryan Robbins raced through and made it six, TCI had pretty much given up. The aggregate score ended up a resounding 12-4. Congratulations to The Sugar Boyz, but TCI shouldn’t feel too disheartened. They’re a team that is slowly but surely improving and English technical director Craig Harrington, born in London, appears to be optimistic about the grassroots and national programme heading into the future.

Standout Player(s):

English-born Harry Panayiotou is only 20 years old and is widely expected to make a breakthrough into the Leicester first team in the next couple of seasons. He’s a player with impressive balance and poise, as well as finishing ability as shown by his treble in Provindenciales.

Billy Forbes did as well as he could have done in the circumstances. It’s always going to be tough dropping down from playing professionally in the United States to working with mostly amateurs in the national team (no disrespect to TCI, of course). He’s very popular with his club after scoring the game-winning goal in the 2014 Soccer Bowl, giving San Antonio Scorpions their first NASL title.

View From The Inside:

“Overall we did well. It could have been a potential banana skin especially in the first game when we went down to 10 men, but the lads remained professional and got the job done. Everyone within the camp is very confident and we feel it’s our time.” Zeph Thomas (St Kitts & Nevis international winger, played in both games)

“From watching the first leg there was a distinct size advantage to St Kitts. It is hard to replicate the experience some of them get in England. I was impressed with the grit our players showed, they never gave up.” Sean O’Neil (Turks & Caicos Islands goalkeeper at Beach Soccer level)

Bermuda – Bahamas (aggregate 8-0)

25/03 – first leg in Nassau: 0-5 (Leverock 4′, Wells PK 14′, Lewis 29′, Donawa 57′, 70′)

Analysis:

Bermudian assistant coach John Barry Nusum believes “this is the best Bermuda team I’ve ever seen”. And it’s difficult to disagree with him. The overseas territory of the British have previously produced the likes of Clyde Best, Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne – all three enjoyed varying success in England – with 24-year-old Huddersfield Town striker Nahki Wells the latest star export. Wells is Bermuda’s captain and talisman up front, and he really came to life against Bahamas, scoring three over the two legs. He was supplied by a bevy of young, exciting midfielders such as Zeiko Lewis, Tre Ming and Justin Donawa. Bahamas simply couldn’t cope with their opponents’ energy, enthusiasm and work rate. Bermuda played some great football – boss Andrew Bascome insists his team has left behind “the old English influence” of “long balls into the box” – as the dreadlocked 52-year-old is an advocate of short passing and aggressive pressing.

Central defender Dante Leverock, one of seven US-based members of the squad, broke the deadlock inside just four minutes with a bullet header into the bottom left corner. That stunned Bahamas and they were never able to recover as Bermuda exerted more and more pressure. Wells coolly dispatched a penalty after Lewis had been chopped down following some splendid dribbling inside the box. The latter then got on the score-sheet himself, piercing through the Bahamanian midfield with ease before jinking left and rolling the ball past goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly. The home supporters’ misery was further compounded on the stroke of half-time when the inaptly named Happy Hall was handed a straight red for lunging in as last man. Donawa sealed what was an emphatic victory later in the second-half with two superb strikes. Job done as far as Bermuda were concerned. This was an unassailable lead.

29/03 – second leg in North Shore Village: 3-0 (Wells 79′, 87′, Burgess 82′)

Analysis:

The performance wasn’t as electrifying as four days earlier, but Bermuda added another three goals to their tally and kept a successive clean sheet in front of a fervent set of Bermudian supporters at the National Stadium. The frustrating thing for the hosts was that they had to wait until the 79th minute to take the lead after Wells had squandered a penalty a minute before the break. He made amends, though, giving his team that lead with a well-taken finish. Defender Tyrell Burgess doubled it and Wells registered his second of the afternoon to make it 8-0 on aggregate at full-time. Bahamas were outplayed on both occasions with new head coach Dion Godet failing to make the desired impact. There was no creativity or spark, a player to grab the game by the scruff of its neck. This was particularly sweet for The Gombey Warriors given Bahamas are their closest rivals with the two islands under 1000 miles away. The people of Bermuda will enjoy the bragging rights and deservedly so. For sure, it will be very interesting to witness how Bermuda cope against Central American opposition Guatemala in the next phase.

Standout Player(s):

19-year-old playmaker Zeiko Lewis looks a real talent. The Boston College Eagles representative – who won the ACC Men’s Soccer Freshman of the Year award in 2013 – is only 5 ft 7 with a slender build, but his low centre of gravity and quick feet make him a pleasure to watch. He was very good in the first leg, tormenting the Bahamanian back-line, and promises to be an important part of the Bermuda midfield for the near future and beyond.

It isn’t just in football that Justin Donawa excels, but also athletics, specifically the triple jump. He came 7th in the triple jump at the World Youth Athletics Championships in 2013. His athletic attributes were clear to see on the field as he combined speed with technique to score both of his goals in the first match. He only made his international debut earlier this month in a friendly against Grenada, yet is already showing real maturity in the senior shirt.

View From The Inside:

“I think we definitely played well over the two legs. We wanted to play attacking football and get goals as well as being organized defensively. We handled ourselves professionally but as a team we still have a lot to improve on if we are to be successful.” Dante Leverock (Bermuda international defender, played in both games)

Dominica – British Virgin Islands (aggregate 3-2)

Note: British Virgin Islands’ 3,000 capacity home stadium, A. O. Shirley Recreation Ground, was deemed unfit for use by FIFA so both legs took place at Windsor Park in Roseau. 

26/03 – first leg in Roseau: 3-2 (Elizee 45′, Joseph 64′, Peltier 81′ Moss 41′, Johnson 53′)

Analysis:

What an inspired substitution Randolph Peltier proved to be as it was his decisive first leg strike that sent Dominica through. The two legs were almost the complete opposite of each other: one a five-goal thriller, the other a cagey goalless affair. Both teams were spurred on by the thought of locking horns with regional powerhouses Canada in the next round, and although Dominica might have been seen as favourites beforehand, they still had to dig deep in order to get over the line. Indeed, they were a goal down within 41 minutes. British Virgin Islands (BVI) weren’t here just to make up the numbers. Edward Moss’ goal stemmed from some really poor defensive work from Dominica as they had six players back yet Jordan Johnson was allowed to sprint past his man and whip in an inviting ball, which Moss expertly converted with his first touch. It was an attempt at releasing the offside trap gone horribly wrong. The Nature Boyz’s response was a good one, though, as a long throw-in found its way to BVI goalkeeper Daniel Barker who flapped at it and Glenworth Elizee was there to gobble up the rebound. Dominican boss Shane Marshall’s half-time team-talk was now a slightly different one.

The hosts were undone by a moment of magic from Johnson shortly after the restart – he was played in with the Dominican defenders caught napping and unleashed a thunderous volley into the top corner. The technique and control was exemplary. Dominica had to dust themselves down and go again, they’d been here before. Highly rated teenager Sidney Lockhart – an attendee of the MLS-Caribbean Combine earlier this year – was picked out in oceans of space. He fed Peltier who cut in and found Mitchell Joseph. Control, turn and goal. They were back on level terms and the locals were really getting behind their players. With nine minutes left on the clock in normal time, the winner came. Chad Bertrand was given plenty of time and space to get his head up and thread through Peltier, whose raw speed got him in on a one-on-one situation with Barker. Calmly, he rounded him and rolled the ball into the empty net. The celebrations that followed hit home how much this match-up meant as one fan ran onto the sideline and hugged his heroes. It was undoubtedly an important goal at an important time but there was another 90 minutes in store yet.

29/03 – second leg in Roseau: 0-0

Analysis:

It certainly helped Dominica in that they had the home advantage on both occasions. The crowd was unfortunately not treated to any goals in this return match, as a rather uneventful 90 minutes passed, and Dominica enjoyed the glory after a tight contest. In fact these were two well-matched teams and similar in quality. The pair had prepared in advance by playing some warm-up friendly games  – both travelled to Antigua in mid-March and lost by the same score-line of 0-1. BVI also engaged Anguilla in a doubleheader in late February and lost 4-1 on aggregate. Credit to BVI – referred to by many as the country that former Tottenham, Chelsea and Porto manager André Villas-Boas took charge of for a year when at the tender management age of 21 in 1998 – they have a good account of themselves. Dominica, meanwhile, can look forward to a very special experience playing against the Canadians, first in Roseau and then away in Canada. Nothing will be expected of them. But who knows what might happen?

Standout Player(s):

Attacker Jordan Johnson, born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, clearly stood out for BVI. The 28-year-old plays for Leek Town in the eighth tier of English football at club level and made his international bow in the first leg. He deserves a mention purely for his goal, which was top draw.

View From The Inside:

“The first leg was a lot closer than expected and I was impressed by British Virgin Islands’ immense determination to take the lead twice. It was a memorable round for BVI and they showed potential, while Dominica will have to improve a lot if they are to harbour any hopes of defeating the Canadians.” Santokie Nagulendran (Regular contributor to The Home of Caribbean Football and avid follower of CONCACAF WCQ)

Anguilla – Nicaragua (aggregate 0-8)

23/03 – first leg in Managua: 5-0 (Galeano 12′, Copete 24′, 39′, Barrera 36′, Lazo 63′)

Analysis:

With an estimated population of around just 16,500, the player pool is clearly restricted in Anguilla. The lowly ranked island had played only four WCQ matches in their history prior to locking horns with Nicaragua, and lost them all by a combined score of 33-2. Now that record has been dented further after falling 8-0 on aggregate to their Central American counterparts. Although Nicaragua are one of the lesser sides in Central America, they are superior to Anguilla in every department and the final score-line was a predictable one. It was game over before the first half had closed in Managua as the hosts went four goals up and were cruising. Luis Manuel Galeano’s 12th minute strike was unstoppable, but Anguilla will feel disappointed that they couldn’t prevent the next three goals, which were all headers. Left-back Manuel Rosas was enjoying far too much room down the left channel and he continually whipped in crosses deep into the box, causing problem after problem for the Anguillan back-line.

Anguilla’s Polish head coach Richard Orlowski enjoying the sunshine. (pic credit: FIFA)

Anguilla struggled to conjure up many opportunities of their own with the likes of Khalid Brooks, Kapil Battice and Adonijah Richardson failing to really test the opposition defence. It is worth pointing out that the team is made up of construction workers, bankers, teachers and boat builders. None of the players are professional whereas Nicaragua’s squad consisted mainly of individuals contracted to clubs in the Nicaraguan top-flight and two playing in Costa Rica. “It may be a small island, but these guys have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen,” explained Anguilla’s recently appointed head coach Richard Orlowski. Born in Poland but a resident of Pennsylvania in the United States, Orlowski used to play as a striker in his homeland. He was hired by the Anguillan FA on the basis of his work with Nepal as assistant coach, contributing to the country’s famous victory over India. Losing out in WCQ is a bitter pill to swallow for Orlowski, however, he did guide his players to their first win in the space of 14 years in February earlier this year, overseeing two victories against British Virgin Islands and one over St Martin. That is a historic achievement in itself and demonstrates progression, even if against similarly lower ranked Caribbean islands. Back to the first leg encounter, though, and Norfran Lazo’s finish shortly after the hour mark made it 5-0, with Anguilla having purely pride to play for back in The Valley.

29/03 – second leg in The Valley: 0-3 (Leguias 21′, 67′, Barrera 45+1′)

Analysis:

Kapil Battice (number 10, right) of Anguilla attempts to play a pass with a pair of Nicaraguan players closing him down. (pic credit: Other Football)

There was slight improvement from Anguilla in the second leg, only conceding three this time and seeing a few more chances on goal. Raul Leguias took his goal neatly to open the scoring as the Costa Rican-based striker sped in front of defender Tarik Prentice and found the bottom corner with his left foot. Nicaragua’s next two goals on the stroke of half-time and with roughly 20 minutes left on the clock proved more than enough and sealed their passage to the next round. Anguilla must keep on battling and they stand a good chance of making progress under the stewardship of Orlowski, whose eccentric character and 100% belief in his team is sure to spur them on. It won’t happen overnight but with long-term planning and vision, progress – even if small – can be achieved. Orlowski added: “I am here to help Anguilla achieve something great.”

Standout Player(s):

A shout-out to Anguilla’s 36-year-old captain Girdon Connor, a midfielder who has been involved with the national team since 2000. Connor has been there through thick and thin, being a part of the team from 2002 WCQ when the island lost 5-2 on aggregate to Bahamas, all the way up to Russia 2018 qualification.  Will he still be around for the next batch of qualifying games?

View From The Inside:

“I saw a big lap of quality between Nicaragua and Anguilla. In my opinion, the Nicaraguans looked like the better team. For Anguilla, they need to try and find some players born in other countries with relatives on the island. At the moment it is very difficult for their players to compete.” Claudio Martinez (Central American Football Journalist)

Cayman Islands – Belize (aggregate 1-1)

25/03 – first leg in Belmopan: 0-0

Analysis:

Just like Anguilla, Cayman Islands were also beaten by Central American opposition but by a much tighter aggregate score. They were undone by the away goal rule after securing a commendable 0-0 draw in the first leg in Belmopan. Caymanian goalkeeper Ramon Sealy was the hero as he pulled off a magnificent double save to stop Elroy Smith’s penalty two minutes in. Sealy saved Smith’s initial kick and then had the alertness to get straight back up and block the rebound. He went onto make several more crucial saves throughout the 90 minutes with captain Abijah Rivers remaining resolute in front of him in defence.

Cayman Islands’ Wesley Robinson (number 6, right) nullifies Delone Torres of Belize. (pic credit: CONCACAF)

It was very much a performance that will be remembered more for defensive spirit and solidity than anything else, and credit must be given not solely to the players but new head coach Alexander Gonzalez who has only been in the job a matter of months. The ex-Cuba boss has clearly been working hard on the training field at shoring things up at the back. Alejandro Ruiz had Cayman Islands’ best chance of the game when Raheem Robinson controlled the ball on the edge of the box and set up his teammate; the home goalkeeper Woodrow West was forced into making an acrobatic dive. For sure, this result provided a great platform on which to build on back in George Town.

29/03 – second leg in George Town: 1-1 (Ebanks 5′ Kuylen 20′)

Analysis:

Gonzalez’s men made a fantastic start on the rain-soaked Truman Bodden Stadium turf when Mark Ebanks found the net inside five minutes following some sloppy defending from Belize. However, Elroy Kuylen’s terrific free-kick shortly after turned out to be critical as it sent the visitors through. Ebanks actually scored again late in the second half but his effort didn’t count because of alleged infringement. In truth Cayman Islands could have had many more than one goal but it wasn’t to be. Renard Moxam, director of the Islands’ national football programme, praised the squad: “It was a close game and there is a feeling of disappointment because we didn’t qualify. Myself and the technical staff are pleased with the level of football we played. We were also pleased to see a reconnection between the national team and the public. The crowd was fantastic and really got behind the team.” For the British overseas territory to play so admirably after a four-year hiatus from playing competitively is noteworthy. They travelled to Jamaica earlier this year to contest friendlies against the Jamaican U-23 team preparing for Rio 2016 qualifying and club opposition on the island, getting beaten heavily against the former which was perhaps a blessing in disguise. It woke them up. The really important thing now for Cayman Islands is to ensure they follow up on these two WCQ performances with more fixtures throughout the calendar year, even if not in the FIFA windows and against weak opposition. Just playing matches in this region is a huge benefit.

Standout Player(s):

23-year-old Ramon Sealy has been one of the most consistent performers in the Cayman jersey over recent years. He captains Bodden Town at club level in his homeland and attended the aforementioned MLS-Caribbean Combine in 2014. What’s more, Sealy balances his goalkeeping with cricketing, representing the national team in both sports.

Cayman skipper Abijah Rivers exhibited strong leadership qualities and acted as the key communicator at the back.

View From The Inside:

“Cayman Islands played well versus a heavily favoured team. They need more time together, having only practiced two months. But they showed vast improvement over the last WCQ campaign and they’ll start beating bigger countries soon if they continue working together to improve technically.” Kevin Morales (Sports anchor/producer for Cayman 27, in the Cayman Islands, and University of Minnesota J-school graduate)

“Whenever you go into a second leg of a WCQ tie when there were no goals scored in the first leg, you wonder how one side will react when the away goal rule comes into an advantage. Albeit, Belize got that crucial goal through Elroy Kuylen and they deserved to go through.” Daniel Feuerstein (Host of American soccer internet radio show ‘Feuerstein’s Fire’ and avid follower of CONCACAF WCQ)

Curacao – Montserrat (aggregate 4-3)

27/03 – first leg in Willemstad: 2-1 (Merencia 8′, Zschusschen PK 39′ Taylor 24′)

Analysis:

There is a real buzz about Curacao and that is largely down to the installment of ex-Barcelona and Holland star Patrick Kluivert as the Dutch overseas territory’s technical director and adviser. Louis van Gaal’s former assistant has been tasked with leading the national team through WCQ and he’s got off to a promising start, moving on from the first round which was a certain requirement. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, mind, with a new-look Montserrat side running them very close. The Emerald Boys assembled one of their strongest ever squads, composed of British-born players plying their trade in the lower echelons of English football. Following the tragic Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995, about 7,000 people (nearly two thirds of the population) fled the island; 4,000 to the UK. So the Montserratian FA took advantage of this diaspora in order to try and bolster Montserrat’s chances of progression. Albeit, they lost out on aggregate by a single goal.

All the goals arrived in the first half in Willemstad. Papito Merencia, who scored a last-gasp goal to send Curacao through to the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals, got the ball rolling with a tidy finish under goalkeeper Corrin Brooks-Meade’s legs. Play settled and Montserrat drew level thanks to Partick Thistle striker Lyle Taylor, who profited from some rash decision making from Curacao custodian Zeus de la Paz. The latter rushed off his line and Taylor anticipated the move, dribbling round him before steadying himself and ensuring he hit the back of the net. The 25-year-old’s goal was only the fourth Montserrat have scored in WCQ since they became a member of FIFA in the 1990s. It didn’t take very long for Kluivert’s men to restore their lead, this time through a debatable penalty decision. The ball was zipped into Felitciano Zschusschen of NAC Breda and his shot was repelled by Brooks-Meade, when the ball then seemingly hit defender Calvin Petrie’s hand and referee Oscar Davilla blew his whistle. Petrie, who as well as being a professional footballer is a semi-pro fighter specialising in mixed martial arts, couldn’t have done much to avoid the situation. Zschusschen made no mistake from the spot. Curacao had the upper hand heading into the return leg.

31/03 – second leg in St John’s: 2-2 (Jamal Willer 65′, Woods-Garness 81′ Lachman 43′, Vicento 87′)

Analysis:

It was hard to predict how this one might go. Montserrat, trailing from the first meeting, had the home advantage at Blakes Estate Stadium in St John’s but Curacao possessed the experience of several Eredivisie-based players. One such example is FC Twente’s Darryl Lachman, who opened the scoring two minutes prior to the break. A corner was whipped in from the left, the ball fell to Lachman and his surprisingly quick feet and neat turn allowed him to pull the trigger, with his effort possibly hitting a man on the way through. The second half was very much about substitutions as the following three goals were all netted by reinforcements off the bench. Jamal Willer entered proceedings on the hour mark and tapped home from a Massiah McDonald delivery just a few minutes later. The Curacao defence was nowhere to be seen. Bradley Woods-Garness sent the home supporters into a frenzy when he rolled his man and picked out the bottom left corner, de la Paz left helpless. But there was more to come: the hosts looked jaded in the latter stages and Curacao worked a good opening, finding Charlton Vicento inside the box, with too much freedom, to squeeze the ball in. Kluivert, his assistants, the subs and players jumped for joy. They knew it would take something monumental for them to relinquish this now. Montserrat had switched off at a pivotal time when there was still a solid five minutes plus to play. An entertaining encounter was brought to an end with Curacao booking their place in the second round, while for Montserrat there is hope for the future. The use of their diaspora will contribute to football’s growth on the island. 

Standout Player(s):

The acquisition of 25-year-old Dutch-born central defender Darryl Lachman is an excellent one. Lachman has an abundance of experience playing in Holland, making over 90 appearances for his former side PEC Zwolle, and is currently contracted to 2009-10 Eredivisie champions FC Twente. He could have chosen to represent Suriname but he opted for Curacao, most likely persuaded by the presence of Kluivert, where he will no doubt be a regular starter.

Montserrat captain Anthony Griffith marshaled the midfield and worked hard at tracking Curacao’s dynamic midfield runners like Merencia, Rihairo Meulens and Gianluca Maria. Griffith was born in Huddersfield, England and has donned the shirt of 10 different clubs so far in his career, his latest Carlisle United in League Two.

View From The Inside:

“I think we were desperately unlucky with some of the decisions that went against us. We were fitter and stronger – we take a lot of positives from the two games and look forward to upcoming fixtures.” Junior Mendes (Former Montserrat international and now Head of Sport Science for The Emerald Boys)

OVERVIEWTeams that have progressed to second round qualification

 

Note: All second round ties will work on a two-legged basis. They will be played in June 2015.

  • Barbados (will contest Aruba)
  • St Kitts (will contest El Salvador)
  • Bermuda (will contest Guatemala)
  • Dominica (will contest Canada)
  • Belize (will contest Dominican Republic)
  • Nicaragua (will contest Suriname)
  • Curacao (will contest Cuba)

The remaining three second round match-ups that were confirmed in mid-January are as follows: St Vincent & the Grenadines v Guyana, Antigua & Barbuda v St Lucia and Puerto Rico v Grenada. From here, a total of 10 teams will qualify for the third round, joining Jamaica and Haiti.

By Nathan Carr

————————————————

Research resources: FIFA, CONCACAF, Wikipedia, Virgin Islands Daily News, Nation News, The Anguillian, Partick Thistle’s Official Website, Love2FightUK, Goal Nepal, Cayman Compass, Cayman Islands FA’s Official Website.

Thank you all for reading. Feel free to contribute some feedback using the comments box designated below and/or you can interact with us on Twitter @caribbeanftbl, using the hash tag #2018WCQ when mentioning qualifying.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s