2017 Caribbean Cup Qualification (Round 1): Group By Group Recap

The road to next year’s Caribbean Cup began in late March with 20 nations competing in Round 1. Here are the results, scores and scorers with analysis on every group…

The official 2017 Caribbean Cup logo designed by the CFU. (courtesy of CONCACAF)

Welcome to The Home of Caribbean Football‘s coverage of the 2017 Caribbean Cup! For those of you who are unaware of this tournament’s existence/purpose, it serves as the Caribbean qualifying process for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Seven countries did not enter into this year’s edition: Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks & Caicos Islands, St Lucia, Bonaire, Bahamas and St Martin. Therefore a total of 24/31 CFU members entered.

St Vincent & the Grenadines appear in Round 2 (June), while Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti appear in Round 3 (October). The 5th place playoff will take place in November and the tournament finals will take place in the United States in May 2017.

Note: The countries underlined won their respective ties.

Group A

St Kitts & Nevis celebrate their 2-0 win over Aruba in Oranjestad. (pic credit: Twitter)

Antigua & Barbuda – Aruba

23/03 – played in North Sound: 2-1 (Parker 11′, George 30′ – Gomez 35′)

Aruba – St Kitts & Nevis

26/03 – played in Oranjestad: 0-2 (Panayiotou 38′, Sawyers 44′)

St Kitts & Nevis – Antigua & Barbuda

29/03 – played in Basseterre: 1-0 (Panayiotou 67′)

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Overall Analysis:

Winning their first game was important for Antigua & Barbuda, knowing beforehand that their tie vs St Kitts & Nevis – which they narrowly lost – would provide a greater challenge. Captain Joshua Parker broke the deadlock before AJ George, of Oxford United, grabbed a goal on his debut. Frederick Gomez got one back for Aruba. Despite seeing their country win, the locals weren’t entirely happy with what they saw. At times A&B were sloppy in possession and it was thought that they’d score a few more goals. Fans are concerned about the lack of homegrown players plying their trade abroad (Charleston Battery’s Quinton Griffith is sole representative at present). Some members of the national team hadn’t featured for their clubs in months yet received call-ups. They’re in the next round and that’s the main thing, although improvement will be needed if they are to remain in qualifying.

As for Aruba, they suffered back-to-back defeats and therefore were officially eliminated from the Caribbean Cup. Former FC Twente boss Rini Coolen was brought in for a second time, following his 2018 WCQ stint in September. Although he was unable to guide the team to the second round, he did make them more organised as a unit. The 49-year-old has also worked at Heracles Almelo in Holland and Adelaide United in Australia so he comes from a professional coaching environment. Aruba didn’t embarrass themselves – they merely fell short against two stronger opponents.

The Arubans were outplayed on home soil by a strong St Kitts & Nevis side, packed with overseas-based professionals and managed by highly rated Mexican Jacques Passy. The game was more or less tied up at half-time thanks to goals from Harry Panayiotou and Romaine Sawyers – both key components of their country’s attack. Two goals and a clean sheet away from home gave SKN confidence heading into their home tie vs A&B. It was the Sugar Boyz who came out on top to finish first in Group A. Leicester City’s Panayiotou – currently on loan at Scottish club Raith Rovers and a 2015 #CaribYoungStars pick – once again got on the score-sheet. SKN deserve praise for the stability of their defensive line and ruthlessness of their attack across both games. Under Passy they are demonstrating impressive progress – the fact they have reached their highest ever FIFA world ranking position (92) backs that up.

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Qualified: St Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda.

Group B

Grenadian players hug each other after scoring against St Maarten in Group B’s opener. (pic credit: GFA Media)

Grenada – St Maarten

22/03 – played in St George’s: 5-0 (J Rennie 52′, Charles 54′, De Punder O.G 56′, John-Brown 67′, S Rennie 87′)

St Maarten – US Virgin Islands

26/03 – played in Philipsburg: 1-2 (Boelijn 89′ – Herring 24′, Wrensford 70′)

US Virgin Islands – Grenada

29/03 – played in Charlotte Amalie: 1-2 (Wrensford 68′ – S Rennie 14′, Sampson 89′)

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Overall Analysis:

As expected, Grenada came out on top in Group B. Boosted by the presence of coach Harry Varley, the Spice Boyz initially struggled in the opener vs St Maarten before upping the tempo in the second half and subsequently scoring five goals. They exploited the opposition’s lack of fitness. Their tie vs US Virgin Islands was more closely contested but Kimo Sampson’s strike at the death gave Grenada all three points and the group title. It’s worth bearing in mind that this was without their UK-based contingent, too, with the likes of Aaron Pierre and Anthony Straker unable to fly out. They should only get stronger as qualifying continues.

No doubt US Virgin Islands would liked to have beaten St Maarten a little more resoundingly. They got the job done in the end – Asanti Herring and Trevor Wrensford on target – and that was sufficient for them to go through. Technical director Ahmed Mohamed, formerly an employee with the Somalian FA, is doing a decent job with the team. Steady progress is being made.

Making their Caribbean Cup debut, the small island of St Maarten gave a very good account of themselves on the whole. They held their own in the first half vs Grenada, going into the break goalless, but couldn’t sustain their fitness for the second 45. And vs USVI they lost by just one goal which shows development. Hopefully they can take lessons from this experience and look to bounce back even stronger for the tournament’s next edition.

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Qualified: Grenada, US Virgin Islands.

Group C

French Guiana’s (yellow top) surprise 3-0 victory over Cuba put the Group C favourites out. (pic credit: LFG’s Facebook Page)

Cuba – Bermuda

22/03 – played in La Habana: 2-1 (Gomez 28′, Saez 77′ – Smith 90′)

Bermuda – French Guiana

26/03 – played in Hamilton: 2-1 (T Ming 42′, Lambe 76′ – Evens 35′)

French Guiana – Cuba

29/03 – played in Cayenne: 3-0 (Loic Baal 24′, Eric 44′, Contout 64′)

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Overall Analysis:

The real big surprise to come out of Group C was that 2012 Caribbean Cup champions and regular Gold Cup participants Cuba finished bottom and therefore fell at the first hurdle. Beating Bermuda in the opener put them in a solid position. But few would have predicted Leones del Caribe to be defeated by French Guiana, particularly in the manner that they were defeated. Travelling to the game in small boats from Suriname can’t have been helped their preparation, mind, with their hotel five hours away from shore. Players slept on chairs and the floor on the night before. In this instance it seems as if poor off-field preparation had a direct hindrance on the on-field performance of the team. What’s more, the squad that played in last year’s Gold Cup still hasn’t been paid its bonuses by the Cuban FA. 

Full credit to French Guiana, a non-FIFA side which are progressing at an impressive rate. In the 2014 Caribbean Cup they went all the way from the preliminaries to the 5th place playoff, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Honduras to miss out on their first ever Gold Cup appearance. Now they have started with purpose and momentum this year. Having relinquished a one-goal lead to Bermuda, they exhibited spirit and character to sweep away Cuba on home soil. The French overseas department scored at crucial times to prevent the opposition from launching any kind of comeback. There’s a considerable amount of ability within the team; a mixture of Ligue 1 and domestic league experience. Goalkeeper Donovan Leon, left-back Ludovic Baal, well-travelled midfielder Roy Contout and strikers Sloan Privat and Gabriel Pigree are all good quality options to have. Ignore them at your own peril.

Bermuda‘s comeback victory over French Guiana turned out to be pivotal for their hopes of second round qualification. Missing skipper Nahki Wells and striker Rai Simons, who didn’t fly out for international duty due to club commitments, Bermuda weren’t at full strength. However, a squad composed of domestic-based, US collegiate and English-based players managed to do just enough to secure second place on goal difference (0 to -2). I expect them to be a stronger proposition in June.

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Qualified: French Guiana, Bermuda.

Group D

Gino van Kessel (centre) is mobbed by his teammates after putting Curacao 1-0 in front against Dominican Republic. (pic credit: FFK’s Facebook Page)

Barbados – Curacao

23/03 – played in Bridgetown: 1-0 (Harewood 68′)

Curacao – Dominican Republic

26/03 – played in Willemstad: 2-1 (van Kessel 66′, Zschusschen 81′ – E Rodriguez 77′)

Dominican Republic – Barbados

29/03 – played in Santo Domingo: 2-0 (Batista 50′, 57′)

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Overall Analysis:

It is testament to the unpredictability of the Caribbean Cup that Dominican Republic, arguably the underdogs of Group D, ended up finishing top. Albeit on goal difference (+1) as each team registered the same amount of points (3). As one of the largest countries within the Caribbean in terms of population, they tend to underperform in most tournaments. Their manager Juan Emilio Mojica departed only a couple of weeks before kick-off and Spaniard Roberto Diaz was drafted in as his replacement. He had limited time to work with the players, most of whom play in the domestic league. Diaz reportedly tried to persuade several overseas-based players to join the squad but those attempts proved futile. Some had club commitments, some rejected the call-up, others were ruled out because of invalid passports. Ultimately Los Quisqueyanos didn’t need them this time, though, as they narrowly and perhaps controversially lost to Curacao before impressively seeing off Barbados, scoring two goals and keeping a clean sheet. They were angry with Felitciano Zschusschen’s winner as Curacao chose not to give the ball back after an injury to a Dominican player, but instead play on. Across both games, ex-Real Valladolid central defender Heinz Barmlettler led from the back while forward players such as Edipo Rodriguez, Jonathan Fana and Rafael Flores showed glimpses of individual creativity and quality. If they can add some overseas-based players for the next round – Real Madrid duo Mariano Diaz and Raul de Tomas, CA Osasuna’s Tano Bonnin and Swiss-based Cesar Ledesma – then Dominican Republic will be a force to be reckoned with.

Patrick Kluivert’s Curacao qualified for the next round, but by the skin of their teeth. They edged it on goal difference – 0 to Barbados’ -1 – thanks to Dominican Republic’s 2-0 victory over Barbados in the final game. You could quite clearly tell that this was a newly assembled team that will gel with time. Make no mistake, this was a very strong Curacaoan squad: Kluivert used his connections to lure Aston Villa’s Leandro Bacuna and FC Groningen’s Jarchino Antonia into the national setup. They possess Premier League and Eredivisie prowess. So on paper it was thought that Curacao should quite straightforwardly win the group. But they were outplayed by an excellent Barbados side in the opener, with their players looking unfamiliar with one another. They enjoyed greater possession but were devoid of ideas and overwhelmed by the raw speed of Barbados’ counter-attacks. A more productive performance was needed vs Dominican Republic in Willemstad and they got that. Gino van Kessel and Zschusschen both netted to give Curacao three precious points. Fortunately for Kluivert and his players things worked out well in the end. The talent is definitely there but team cohesion and chemistry will have to improve for the next stage.

Barbados won’t believe that they missed out on qualification. It was all looking so rosy after their 1-0 win vs Curacao. They defended fantastically and dug deep in front of a passionate home crowd in Bridgetown. The nucleus of the team was formed on Barbados Defence Force players Ricardo Morris in defence, goalscorer Romario Harewood in midfield and Mario Harte in attack. They crumbled vs Dominican Republic, though, and saw their Caribbean Cup hopes vanish. As Barbados found out, football can be a cruel, cruel game.

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Qualified: Dominican Republic, Curacao.

Group E

Anguilla (left) take on Puerto Rico in The Valley. (pic credit: The Anguillian Newspaper)

Guyana – Anguilla

22/03 – played in Georgetown: 7-0 (Peters 11′, 30′, Nurse 14′, Danns 34′, Richardson 45′, Mills 47′, Barrington 65′)

Anguilla – Puerto Rico

26/03 – played in The Valley: 0-4 (Coca 16′, 52′, Rivera 40′, Ortiz 61′)

Puerto Rico – Guyana

29/03 – played in San Juan: 0-1 (Austin 65′)

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Overall Analysis:

With a squad composed of English-based and GFF Elite League players, Guyana earned maximum points to finish top of Group E. As expected they made comfortable work of beating Anguilla with six different scorers contributing to a 7-0 rout. They then followed that up with a tighter win over Puerto Rico, Solomon Austin’s goal proving the difference. There is a good balance to the Guyanese team with the likes of Chris Nurse, Neil Danns and Samuel Cox providing overseas experience while captain Gregory Richardson, Vurlon Mills and Dwight Peters are some of the Elite League’s top players. The Elite League was founded last year and has contributed to the development of the country’s domestic football. Hopefully Colchester United’s Matthew Briggs and Emery Welshman of Real Salt Lake can join Guyana for June’s fixtures.

Puerto Rico‘s victory over Anguilla was enough for them to advance to the next round. With a new manager in Jack Stefanowski and a squad boosted by the introduction of US-based professional and New York City FC central defender Jason Hernandez – PR looked in good shape. They were unlucky not to take a point from their tie vs Guyana. They possess good quality across all departments, particularly going forward with Puerto Rico FC pair Joseph Marrero and Jorge Rivera and Juan Coca, who notched twice in The Valley, offering strength in depth. Next month’s home friendly vs USA should help prepare them for second round games.

How about Anguilla? 11 goals conceded, none scored. That is a better ratio than 2014 but still the tiny island has much work to do. National team boss Nigel Linton called up a very youthful squad – including 15-year-old Kenau Thompson – and they struggled vs Guyana yet fared better vs Puerto Rico. Just playing games will aid their development.

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Qualified: Guyana, Puerto Rico.

Group F

Guadeloupe (second right) and Suriname played out a 0-0 draw in the first game, with the hosts prevailing on penalties. (pic credit: LGF’s Facebook Page)

Note: St Martin withdrew beforehand for reasons unknown. Guadeloupe and Suriname therefore received automatic advancement to the next round.

Guadeloupe – Suriname

23/03 – played in Les Abymes: 0-0 AET (Guadeloupe win 3-2 on penalties)

Suriname – Guadeloupe

29/03 – played in Paramaribo: 3-2 (Rijssel 30′, 34′, Kisoor 41′ – Beauvue 15′, Nabab 32′)

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Overall Analysis:

There was slightly less pressure on Suriname and Guadeloupe to perform following St Martin’s withdrawal from qualifying. They both knew that a spot in the next round was assured so these games gave an indication of the teams fitness levels and all-round development. The first tie hosted by Guadeloupe was a cagey affair which had to be decided on penalties (this year the CFU implemented a new rule that there has to be a winner, so extra time and penalties happen if it’s a stalemate after 90 minutes). The hosts edged it on spot kicks to gain an advantage heading into the return fixture. But the tables turned in Paramaribo: the French overseas department raced into an early lead thanks to star player Claudio Beauvue before suffering from an inspirational Surinamese comeback. Beauvue proved a big hit with Guingamp in Ligue 1 before signing with Lyon and now he’s with Celta Vigo. There was a manic four minute spell which included three goals and subsequently made the scoreline 2-2. Creative midfielder Mitchell Kisoor struck minutes before half-time for Suriname and that turned out to be the winning goal. The Dutch-speaking nation finished top of Group F courtesy of a superior goal difference (+1 to -1). A good effort by them, especially given the circumstances with the country’s economy at the moment.

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Qualified: Suriname, Guadeloupe.

Group G

Dominica (white top) win an aerial duel in their away tie vs British Virgin Islands. (pic credit: BVIFA’s Facebook Page)

Martinique – British Virgin Islands

23/03 – played in Fort-de-France: 3-0 (Parsemain 12′, Arquin 68′, Langil 85′)

British Virgin Islands – Dominica

26/02 – played in Tortola: 0-7 (Dicker O.G 20′, Walters 28′, 51′, Bertrand 33′, Wade 44′, 55′, PK 85′)

Dominica – Martinique

29/03 – played in Roseau: 1-4 (C Prince PK 74′ – Joseph O.G 11′, Herelle 23′, Arquin 53′, Abaul 88′)

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Overall Analysis:

Martinique won Group G with maximum points from both outings. In training since December last year, their team of mainly domestic-based players never really looked in trouble. Two of Les Matinino’s key attackers – former Seattle Sounders signing Kevin Parsemain and Turkish-based Yoann Arquin – got on the score-sheet in the opener vs British Virgin Islands. Parsemain was the stand-out for Martinique during the Gold Cup in 2013, of course. In Roseau they had secured the three points before the hour mark. They will be hoping to maintain this good form.

Dominica produced a terrific performance vs British Virgin Islands – a repeat of the 2018 WCQ first round qualifier from March last year – to claim an emphatic 0-7 victory on the road. When the two sides met last time things were much tighter, the aggregate score being 3-2. On this occasion the Dominicans were merciless – Julian Wade, who actually played for Montserrat in 2010 Caribbean Cup qualification before being declared ineligble to further represent them, grabbed the headlines with an impressive hat-trick. They could go into their home tie vs Martinique with the pressure off, knowing that a place in the following round had been achieved. Possibly a tournament dark horse?

This was a disappointing qualifying campaign for British Virgin Islands, featuring a new-look team which struggled against superior opposition. Five new players were recruited by their FA, including a trio from Andrew College in the USA. But the Nature Boyz found it difficult to create many chances as they failed to register a goal across both games. In their doubleheader vs Dominica last year, they demonstrated some defensive resilience and looked a threat on the break. Indeed, they kept a clean sheet in the return leg. All of that went out of the window this time around, though. Back to the drawing board for Avondale Williams’ men.

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Qualified: Martinique, Dominica.

SECOND ROUND GROUPS (A-E)

Matches will be played in early June. (via CFU’s official website)

By Nathan Carr

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Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our second round review which will most likely be published in mid/late June. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter and discuss the Caribbean Cup, using the hash tag #CC2017. 

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