Cibao FC clinch historic first Caribbean Club Championship title

Cibao became the first Dominican club to win the Caribbean Club Championship and subsequently qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League when they beat San Jan Jabloteh in Sunday’s final…

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Cibao celebrate becoming the first club from the Dominican Republic to win the Caribbean Club Championship and subsequently qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. (pic credit: Cibao Futbol Club)

The final round of this year’s Caribbean Club Championship culminated in Cibao taking the title for the first time in their short history, after a 1-0 win over San Jan Jabloteh, and Portmore United claiming third following a tense 5-3 penalty shoot-out victory over defending champions Central.

This means that Cibao have qualified for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League (February-May) while Jabloteh, Portmore and Central will play in the newly formed CONCACAF League later this year (August-October).

The final proved an entertaining spectacle with goal-scoring chances at both ends. But it was Richard Dabas’ first half goal that proved crucial as he headed past Jabloteh goalkeeper Javon Sample from a Charles Herold Jr corner.

The third place match saw Central break the deadlock through Jason Marcano before Portmore stuck back twice to take the lead thanks to Maalique Foster and Cleon Pryce. Keston George, who served as captain in the 3-1 win over Grenades, found the roof of the net from inside the penalty area to level things up at the death. The Jamaicans held their nerve in the shootout to finish third and condemn Central to fourth.

Formed just over two years ago in order to participate in the Liga Dominicana de Futbol – the Dominican Republic’s professional domestic league – Cibao have made great strides in such a short period of time. Their success is not only a triumph for the club, but a triumph for football on the island which is better known for its love of baseball. The club’s Mexican-born manager Albert Benaiges may be a name familiar with some readers. He coordinated Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia, for over two decades, during which time he coached Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin and spotted a 12-year-old Andres Iniesta playing in a seven-a-side tournament in Spain. He has instilled an attacking philosophy into the team, favouring a 4-3-3 formation with the full-backs given the licence to get forward.

Benaiges’ men were denied three points in their opening game against Jennings Grenades due to a late comeback from the Antiguan side, which meant their clash with reigning champions Central was carded as a must-win. Cibao rose to the occasion by winning 1-0; Patrick Soko finished off Domingo Peralta’s assist shortly after half-time and that goal booked their ticket to the final. They have made history by lifting their first Caribbean Club Championship trophy and will look to do the Dominican Republic proud when the CCL rolls around next year.

It’s fair to say, meanwhile, that Central were not just Group A favourites but overall tournament favourites having won the two previous editions (2015, 2016). A significant amount of their players left after they won the TT Pro League for an historic third time in a row in February. The club were therefore very active in the transfer market and brought in a number of overseas players on short-term deals in order to boost their squad. In came the likes of Jamaican shot stopper Ryan Thompson, 2006 World Cup player Carlos Edwards, American midfielder Graham Smith, young Antiguan defender Vashami Allen and a string of English players, including left-back Michael Kedman whose family hail from Trinidad & Tobago.

The Sharks hit the ground running with a 3-1 win meaning they were in the driving seat for a place in the final. But midfielder Nathaniel Garcia was sent off at the end of the first half against Cibao and they suffered with one man less, eventually losing the tie by a one-goal margin. Fourth place and entry into the CONCACAF League is not a disastrous outcome but, certainly, this would not have been Central’s primary objective beforehand. A final appearance was expected as a minimum given the variety of players recruited, however, you could argue that this contributed to a lack of team chemistry and understanding on the pitch. Achieving qualification to the CCL is still a possibility as the winner of the CONCACAF League progresses to the CCL, although Central America’s elite will be standing in their way.

Video credit: CDN 37.

The underdogs of Group A and Antigua & Barbuda’s sole representatives at this round, Jennings Grenades put up a decent fight overall. They took the lead against Central through their dangerous frontman Tevaughn Harriette before giving up three unanswered goals. Harriette also scored versus Cibao to take his tally to seven goals in five outings dating back to 1 March. The Antigua Observer reported that Grenades goalkeeper Prince Walter and Harriette have been offered contracts by Central. The aim is for the two clubs to strike a working relationship and put more Antiguan players, such as the pair named above, in the shop window.

San Juan Jabloteh qualified for their first final since 2006 thanks to a superior goal difference over Portmore (+2, +1). Three years before that they had lifted the trophy after overcoming W Connection on penalties when the likes of Angus Eve, Cornell Glen, Aurtis Whitley and Cyd Gray represented the team. The latter three of course went on to represent the Soca Warriors at the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. Despite advancing to the final, the manager Keith Jeffery and winger Nathan Lewis came across as very annoyed that two such late goals were leaked in their 2-2 draw with Portmore. Jeffrey blamed wastefulness in front of goal. That wastefulness continued into the final as Lewis and Jairo Lombardo of Panama squandered particularly good opportunities.

Portmore United picked more or less a full-strength team for this tournament which coincided with their involvement in the Red Stripe Premier League semi-final playoffs. They played and lost the first leg 2-1 to UWI before flying to Port of Spain and will play the return fixture this coming weekend. The 2005 champions led by 1998 World Cup player Linval Dixon began on the right foot with a win and clean sheet against Racing and then launched a spirited comeback versus Jabloteh, although that wasn’t enough for a place in the final as an inferior goal difference hurt them in the end. It was a great strike from Ewan Grandison to equalize for 2-2, drilling his shot into the bottom corner giving the goalkeeper no chance. They now have several months to prepare for the CONCACAF League.

Racing des Gonaives were making their debut appearance in the Caribbean Club Championship final round, having lost to the Puerto Rico Islanders at the second round seven years ago. Here they were met by tougher opposition than what they encountered back in February when they topped their qualifying group, edging Surinamese outfit Inter Moengotapoe on superior goal difference (+6, +5). Although they only conceded three times, Racing were unable to find the net over 180 minutes of action which proved a weakness of theirs.

Final standings & results

Group A

  1. Cibao PTS 4 GD +1
  2. Central PTS 3 GD +1
  3. Grenades PTS 1 GD -2

14/05: Central 3-1 Grenades / 16/05: Cibao 2-2 Grenades / 18/05: Central 0-1 Cibao

Group B

  1. Jabloteh PTS 4 GD +2
  2. Portmore PTS 4 GD +1
  3. Racing PTS 0 GD -3

14/05: Jabloteh 2-0 Racing / 16/05: Portmore 1-0 Racing / 18/05: Jabloteh 2-2 Portmore

21/05: Third place match – Central 2-2 AET Portmore (3-5 PKs)

21/05: Final – Cibao 1-0 Jabloteh

By Nathan Carr

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Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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