Dubbed “The World Cup of Caribbean Football”, the Caribbean Cup is the region’s showpiece event. Here’s The Home of Caribbean Football‘s thorough group by group recap of first round action…
Luckily for you guys reading this wherever you are in the world, The Home of Caribbean Football will be providing detailed and up-to-date coverage of all of the 2014 Caribbean Cup action, beginning with a look back on an intense first round of play (3-7 September). Just to remind everyone, the tournament’s preliminary stages took place during late May/early June with Bonaire and French Guiana progressing to this phase…
Group 3 – Martinique (hosts), Barbados, Bonaire, Suriname
Best Team: Martinique
There was a sense before the tournament started that Martinique would be almost nailed on qualifiers out of this group, and they fulfilled those expectations, finishing in first place with an undefeated record. Having seen them raise a few eyebrows at last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, it was clear that the non-FIFA nation would offer considerable competition and score goals at the Caribbean Cup. They kicked off in formidable fashion with a 6-0 thrashing of Bonaire, captain Gaël Germany running the show having scored a hat-trick in just under a thirty minute time frame. This size of victory helped give the competition’s 1993 champions momentum leading up to the second game against Barbados, which proved a much harder test. On the half hour mark, Barbados had a two-goal cushion and looked to be in control, until Martinique showed great character and fought back to hit three goals in the second half and win. With one match to spare, Les Matinino had secured progression to the next round and their final outing, against Suriname, carried a rather predictable scoreline of 0-0. It was a case of three professional performances from Martinique, who benefited from the home advantage, as they ended up with most goals scored and least amount conceded in the group.
Key Player(s): Emmerson Boyce
The really special thing about this year’s Caribbean Cup is that because it’s taking place during FIFA international windows, teams have been able to call upon players from overseas as their respective clubs aren’t in action. Barbados took full advantage for their squad selection by including Wigan Athletic’s Emmerson Boyce, the country’s skipper and rock at the back. Previous to these batch of games, Boyce had only made four appearances since his international debut in 2008, but he provided a huge boost as his desire, leadership and infectious personality spread to the rest of the Barbadian players. The Bajan Tridents finished behind Martinique in the group to clinch an automatic spot in the next round and a significant part of their success was Boyce, the only overseas-based player in the roster. Although he unfortunately turned the ball into his own net against Martinique, he did redeem himself by getting in on the act as a substitute in Barbados’ 4-1 over Bonaire, a result which propelled them to automatic qualification. Boyce did excellently in galvanizing his teammates, raising awareness of the Barbados football team on social media and it is obvious he has the respect of the players. The English-born defender is an integral part of the Barbadian setup and should be commended for the effect he has had.
Surprise Team: Bonaire
Bonaire, only granted CFU and CONCACAF membership in April last year, came agonizingly close to advancing to the next phase but in the end it was a terrible goal difference which cost them. The non-FIFA nation began their Caribbean Cup journey back in May, in the preliminaries, when a win over the US Virgin Islands and draw to Montserrat was enough to send them through. Nothing much was expected of them for the first round, but to their credit, Bonaire performed very well indeed and bounced back from a heavy opening defeat to Martinique by beating rivals Suriname, albeit marginally. Goals from Lacey Pauletta, Yurick Seinpaal and Suehendley Barzey (PK) earned Rudsel Sint Jago’s men the three points, despite Suriname giving them a late scare with Miquel Cronie scoring two in the space of two minutes to set up a nervy conclusion. Although Bonaire missed out on the top two, they were still in contention for the best third place team which guarantees qualification. Dominican Republic finished on the same number of points, however, because of Bonaire’s inferior goal difference (-8 to Dom Rep’s +8), they were eliminated. Still, they have demonstrated plenty of progress over the last year or so and should be proud of their efforts, especially for such a limited number of players at their disposal (squad was entirely domestic-based, representatives from four top-flight clubs).
Game of the Group: Suriname 2-3 Bonaire
It’s been mentioned already, but it has to be Bonaire’s victory versus the Surinamese, purely for the shock factor. The fact that Bonaire were coming off the back of a really heavy, ignominious loss and then took the lead as early as the 6th minute made it even more surprising. Suriname weren’t forecasting such an explosive start, perhaps, and it was a case of too little too late for them. It is worth pointing out too, that, as of 2013, Suriname’s population is approximately 500,000 in comparison to approximately 17,000 for Bonaire.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Martinique were deserved winners of the group and second for Barbados is a great achievement. In the next round to be played in October, Martinique will compete in Group 9, held in fellow French overseas department Guadeloupe, while Barbados will feature in Group 8 to be held in Haiti. Both of those groups are tough but Martinique perhaps stand a greater chance of making it to the final phase in November, for Barbados may lack that extra bit of quality. A memorable tournament for Bonaire, while Suriname will feel disappointed with their performances over the course of the week.
Group 4 – Puerto Rico (hosts), Grenada, Curacao, French Guiana
Best Team: French Guiana
Now this was a really difficult decision because the top two were so equal and fairly contested throughout. French Guiana just edge it, though, purely because of the way they’ve been drawn into the Caribbean Cup. The non-FIFA nation started in the preliminary round, some say unfairly, and breezed through it with comfortable wins over British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands and Aruba. It is not entirely known why the CFU decided to put French Guiana in the earliest phase as they competed in the last edition of the Caribbean Cup and finished third in their group. In the other group, Dominican Republic occupied the same position and Antigua & Barbuda finished last, yet those two teams were given entry to the first round for this year’s tournament. But, in fairness to French Guiana, they’ve not complained and worked hard to get into the second round. Having retained the core of their successful preliminary squad, they opened their account with a 1-1 draw against Grenada, veteran striker Sylvio Breleur with the goal. Against Puerto Rico, they scored extremely late on to win after trailing to a Hector Ramos penalty for the hosts. Gabriel Pigrée, of French side Trélissac FC, who was prolific in the preliminaries, was the hero as he notched both of his country’s goals on the night, one of which arrived in the 90th minute. This was crucial and when the group’s two dominant teams met, French Guiana and Curacao, both only needed a draw to progress. So, rather predictably, it ended 0-0 and Grenada and Puerto Rico crashed out.
Key Player(s): Joseph Marrero, Prince Rajcomar
Although Puerto Rico failed to make it through, the team can take heart from the fact they registered the most amounts of goals in the group (5). Little attacking midfielder, Joseph Marrero, contributed nearly 50% of them as his double on the opening night against Curacao reinforced his growing reputation. Nicknamed “Jackie”, the 21-year-old plays his club football for Kultsu FC in Finland, having moved there from Academia Quintana, based in Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan, earlier this year. At such a relatively tender age, Marrero has already represented his country on 14 occasions and has seven goals to date, meaning he is averaging a goal every two games. The No 10’s second goal against Curacao was an outstanding piece of play. A corner was sent in from the right, Curacao’s goalkeeper punched it away, but Marrero was loitering on the edge of the box to hit it first time right into the top corner. It’s one of those strikes which you just watch over and over and over again. You can see it below.
A quick note on Puerto Rico, though, and it is worth remembering that their roster was full of very young, inexperienced members as 13 players aged 25 or under were picked. Indeed, the president of the Puerto Rican Football Federation (FPF), Eric Labrador, told national press ElNuevoDia: “We are very hopeful for this group of guys. It’s a young group. It is the new generation of our team.”
Another key team player in this group was Prince Rajcomar, making his debut for Curacao having been selected by them for the tournament for the very first time. Born in Maastricht, Holland, he was was part of the Dutch squad for the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship which included the likes of Ron Vlaar, Ibrahim Afellay and Ryan Babbel. But he was never deemed good enough to don the senior Oranje shirt. Aged 29, he’s currently a free agent, but if he keeps on scoring goals for Curacao then he might not be for much longer. Rajcomar was on target against Puerto Rico and it was his goal that have his side belief, for Shelton Martis to then complete the comeback with eight minutes remaining. In the next game against Grenada he did the exact same thing, pulling one back just under the half hour mark before Gevaro Nepomuceno wrapped things up five minutes later. Rajcomar is likely to be an important cog in the Curacao line-up for the next round in October.
Surprise Team: French Guiana
This was a group with very few surprises. Curacao were tipped to go through and they did. Puerto Rico are a team in transition and the second round would’ve been a step too far. Grenada’s state of football is improving but they’re not quite up to scratch just yet; although in our preview I did predict them to maybe spring a surprise, in reality that was always going to be a tall order. So it leaves French Guiana as the surprise team, especially given their lowly ranked group position in the last Caribbean Cup. In fact, before their appearance in the 2012 version, French Guiana had not participated since 1995. 17 years is a long, long time in football.
There was an interesting piece on them in the last World Soccer magazine, written by journalist Steve Menary. It focused on Bernard Lama, the ex-goalkeeper who was born in and represented France but grew up in French Guiana, and how the Ligue de Football de la Guyane (LFG) vice-president wants social change and football development in the country. He commented on how he thinks being a part of the French Football Federation is letting French Guiana down and that the reported fee of 60,000 euros a year, as a federation member, is insufficient if they want a “technical director” and the LFG “to develop”. Lama also stressed the significance of doing well in the Caribbean Cup, saying “It’s very important” and that “We have an ambition to play in the Gold Cup; that is our World Cup.” Well, they’ve certainly made a promising start.
Game of the Group: Puerto Rico 2-2 Grenada
There was several late goals in this group – 82nd minute in Puerto Rico v Curacao, 90th minute in Puerto Rico v French Guiana – and of course 85th minute in Puerto Rico v Grenada. Funnily enough, all three of these late strikes went against the Puerto Ricans which perhaps symbolizes their lack of concentration at the back. But the 85th minute goal came from Grenada’s bulky striker Kithson Bain, of Alpha United in Guyana, as he salvaged a point for his side in what was a really entertaining, exciting match. Hector Ramos opened the scoring for the hosts before Terry James levelled for Grenada, with chances flowing. Alex Oikkonen, another Puerto Rican plying his trade in Finland, who we actually profiled on the site last year, fired his team into the lead with a spectacular goal. However, Grenada refused to give up and a draw was a fair result in the end. It was an exhilarating finish and a big thank you must go to FedeFutbolPR for streaming it.
Group 4 was definitely one of, if not the, tightest groups in the tournament. Curacao and French Guiana’s battle for top spot was always enticing – both finished on five points, with the same goal difference (+1) – and they’ll compete in Groups 9 and 8 respectively. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, will rue conceding a number of late goals but the future looks positive for them. Grenada’s football landscape is looking much better over recent months, but they didn’t quite have enough cutting edge and will be no doubt frustrated not to have won a game.
Group 5 – Antigua & Barbuda (hosts), Anguilla, Dominican Republic, St Vincent & the Grenadines
*Santokie Nagulendran is our Group 5 and 6 correspondent. Creator of the Guyanese Football Blog, Santokie has written for The Guyana Times, Sports Desk Guyana and of course, The Home of Caribbean Football
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Best Team: Antigua & Barbuda
Hosts Antigua & Barbuda were very thankful that the Caribbean Cup was being held on FIFA International dates for the first time in its history, as it allowed them to call upon eight overseas-based players to strengthen their squad, one which hadn’t played a competitive game since December 2012. So in came English-based players such as Calaum Jahraldo-Martin (currently at Premier League side Hull City), Nathaniel Jarvis and Keiran Murtagh to help the Benna Boys qualify for the second round. Antigua could not have had an easier opening tie than facing Anguilla, ranked 207th in the world and bizarrely given a bye from playing in the preliminary qualifying round ahead of better quality sides such as French Guiana and Aruba. Nevertheless, Antigua got off to a dream start, beating Anguilla 6-0, with Keiran Murtagh netting twice, and veteran striker Peter Byers adding another to his vast collection of international goals.
However, the real challenge would come in their next game, against the much-fancied Dominican Republic, who had suffered a shock loss to St Vincent & the Grenadines in their first game and would be looking to bounce back against Antigua. Things got off to the worst possible start for the Benna Boys when defender Karanja Mack scored an own goal in the 21st minute, but a second half comeback mounted by Byers and Welsh-born Nathaniel Jarvis ensured that Antigua sealed their qualification with a game to spare. Their final encounter against St Vincent would have initially appeared to have been an ‘easy’ tie before the competition, yet stunning form from Cornelius Huggins’ troops meant that both teams had qualified for the next round and this was a game to see who would top the group. In a repeat of their earlier game against the Dominican Republic, Antigua found themselves 1-0 down at half-time, yet two late second-half goals from talented young defender Akeem Thomas and Jarvis (you can see his goal below) again ensured they won 2-1 and ended the round with three wins out of three.
This is a team that has a wonderful blend of domestic talent, and a great pool of overseas-based players to complement their depth, with youthful vibrancy being a major theme in the squad. What was impressive to see in the team was their belief and team spirit, in two games they found themselves 1-0 down, yet managed to mount comebacks in both and emerge victorious. They will be strong contenders to qualify from the next round, where they face Dominican Republic again, the underdogs St Lucia and Caribbean giants Trinidad & Tobago.
Key Player(s): Joshua Parker
English-born Antigua midfielder Josh Parker had spells at English clubs QPR and Oldham Athletic before finding himself at current club NK Domzale in Slovenia, where he plays as an attacking midfielder. Filling in for the injured Mikele Leigertwood, 23-year old Parker excelled in his role as a defensive midfielder despite not being his preferred position, and could be an asset for the Benna Boys for years to come
Surprise Team: St Vincent & the Grenadines
After winning their opening game 1-0 against Dominican Republic, a bus carrying various members of the St Vincent team was involved in an accident, leaving manager Cornelius Huggins, several members of his assistants and player Jahvin Sutherland all with minor leg injuries and visits to the hospital. However, St Vincent would not let this affect their on-field performances, defeating Anguilla 4-0 the very next day to seal qualification to the second qualifying round ahead of group favourites Dominican Republic. Although they lost 2-1 to Antigua in the last game, they will be more than happy at having qualified in second place, with tight defending being their forte, only conceding one goal in the round.
Ranked 134th in the world, St Vincent are by no means underdogs compared to other teams in the region, but they were placed in a tough group and the lack of ‘glamour’ in the side, featuring only two overseas-based players, meant they were never considered likely to progress. However, the signs have been there: they finished a respectable 2nd in April’s Windward Islands Tournament, building on two games against Dominica in February whereby they won 3-2 and drew 0-0 respectively. In a region where international fixtures are hard to come by, the fact they played five games in preparation for the Caribbean Cup put them at a distinct advantage which proved to be priceless.
Game of the Group: Dominican Republic 0-1 St Vincent & the Grenadines
To win the award of best game in a group where there was also a 10-0 result (Dominican Republic v Anguilla) is no mean feat, but St Vincent v Dominican Republic was a classic. Oalex Anderson scored the only goal for St Vincent, and despite being bombarded by the Dominicans; the team managed to hold on with some superb defending.
The questionable inclusion of Anguilla in this round meant that this group had some of the most one-sided score lines including 6-0 and 10-0 losses for the Anguillans. However, entertainment wise, this was arguably the most watchable group, with shock results and big scores culminating in three teams managing to progress to the next round (Dominican Republic qualified as best 3rd placed team). In the next group, Antigua will fancy themselves against St Lucia and the Dominican Republic (who they now face again), and will surely relish the opportunity to face group hosts Trinidad & Tobago in a gargantuan clash. St Vincent have the trickiest opponents, with Martinique, Guadeloupe and Curacao all proving to be high quality outfits that may be too much of a challenge for the Vincentians. However, as this group proved, surprises can happen, and it would be silly to rule out any team in the next qualifying round.
Group 6 – St Kitts & Nevis (hosts), Guyana, St Lucia, Dominica
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Best Team: St Kitts & Nevis
The hosts St Kitts & Nevis had not played a competitive game in nearly two years before this year’s Caribbean Cup, and are currently ranked 159th in FIFA’s World Rankings, yet as hosts of Group 6 they were under heavy pressure to qualify from the group. A strong 20-man squad was named for the competition, with nine of those players overseas-based, including young Walsall midfielder Romaine Sawyers and captain Atiba Harris, who currently plays for San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS. Their first game came against St Lucia, and in front of a lively home crowd at Warner Park Sporting Complex in Basseterre, St Kitts played out a nervy 0-0 draw. Team captain Harris wasted two golden opportunities to score, but ultimately it was a game where both team’s defence prevailed.
Discontent was evident in fans after the game, with one remarking that the country “did not get its money’s worth” from the overseas players. The result and sense of discontent amongst fans made their next game against 168th ranked Dominica a must-win affair, and they did not disappoint, cruising to a very impressive 5-0 victory that saw Sawyers, Harris and another overseas-based player, Zeph Thomas, all net goals. This put St Kitts in a commanding position as they headed into their final match against Guyana, who in contrast, had only called up one overseas-player and named 17 debutants in their 18-man squad. Harris and Thomas netted once again, to ensure a 2-0 victory and put St Kitts as group winners on goal difference, remarkably having gone all three games without conceding a single goal. Edging out St Lucia as the strongest team in the group, The Sugar Boyz utilised the experience of defender Thirzen Leader to maintain a solid backbone which in turn meant the younger, more attacking players such as Thomas and Sawyers were confident in pushing forward on the opposition’s goal. A great campaign so far, and they will certainly fancy themselves to qualify from a second round group that, whilst featuring a very strong Haiti team, also contains French Guiana and Barbados, whom St Kitts will consider as beatable.
Key Player(s): Atiba Harris
Atiba Harris is a strong, pacy winger who can terrorise defenders at all levels, as proven by the fact he has played in Spain and also for six different MLS sides, including current team San jose Earthquakes. His invaluable experience of playing top level football has proven to be critical for his national side, and his commanding presence on the pitch makes him an ideal captain to lead his team-mates. Aged 29, he has played for St Kitts since 2003, so is very much a veteran, yet his utterly dominating performances against both Guyana and Dominica suggest he is still in his prime. Two goals in three games in the tournament so far, he will be looking to add to that total as he leads his nation into the second qualifying round next month.
St Lucia, with a relatively small population of 180,000 and a history of mediocrity at this tournament, were never really expected to qualify from the group, with most predicting the hosts St Kitts along with Guyana to qualify with ease. However, they have had a busy year preparing for the Caribbean Cup; playing friendlies against Jamaica and Dominica, whilst also winning the Windward Islands Tournament in April. This was a confident team who mainly play club football in St Lucia, although they had two young players, Tremain Paul and Eden Charles, who ply their trade in Trinidad & Tobago for major club side W Connection. After producing a dogged display in the opening 0-0 draw with St Kitts, St Lucia went one further in the next game by defeating Guyana for the first time in 23 years, with goals from Burton Emmanuel and Jamil Joseph sealing a surprise 2-0 victory over the Golden Jaguars. In their final game, two goals from Cliff Valcin capped off an almost-perfect round for the St Lucians, who used the confidence gained from winning the Windward Islands Tournament to seal a place in the second round.
Game of the Group: St Lucia 2-0 Guyana
With both teams drawing their opening games, this battle was in effect a knockout game, with the loser facing an uphill task to qualify. For Guyana, there was the added pressure of knowing their last tie would be against hosts St Kitts. Guyana head coac, Denzil Thompson, had expressed confidence in his side’s ability to beat St Lucia before the game. But he would be proven wrong as St Lucia took a 14th minute lead through Burton Emmanuel and then took a risk by choosing to sit back and allow Guyana to reap possession. The risk nearly backfired as Guyanese striker Delroy Fraser almost scored through a goal-keeping error, but St Lucia hung on, and as Guyana pushed further up the pitch towards the end, Jamil Joseph scored on the counter in the 84th minute to seal a historic victory for the St Lucians.
The headlines will rightly focus on St Kitts and St Lucia cruising to the next round, yet it is also important to mention the situation surrounding Guyana, who made the semi-finals of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying only two years ago. In line with the new administration’s ‘’development’’ policy, Guyana named an 18-man squad with 17 youngsters making their debut, (only defender Walter Moore had international experience), and this included no overseas-based players or indeed, any players from leading Guyanese club Alpha United. The team consequently made their worst Caribbean Cup outing since 1994, scoring zero goals in total, as leading domestic league scorer last season, Gregory ‘’Jackie Chan’’ Richardson, was left out. It remains to be seen whether any administrative changes will be made as a result. That is not to discredit the exceptional performances of St Kitts and St Lucia, who prepared well for the tournament and reaped the rewards. Finally, on Dominica, they also fared miserably and are a nation still bereaving the tragic death of former national coach Kurt Hector and player Norran Jno Hope.
By site editor Nathan Carr and correspondent Santokie Nagulendran