The second round of Caribbean Cup play brought 56 goals across 18 games, with the qualified teams for the final stage in Montego Bay, Jamaica next month confirmed. So sit back, relax and enjoy The Home of Caribbean Football‘s comprehensive recap of the tournament’s latest action…
Group 7 – Trinidad & Tobago (hosts), St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominican Republic
*Santokie Nagulendran is our Group 7 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: Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad & Tobago came into this group as the hosts and also undisputed favourites to finish top – in essence, all the pressure was on them. Any doubts were resoundingly put to rest over the past week, as The Soca Warriors comfortably topped the group, scoring nine goals and conceding just one in the process. A 6-1 demolition of Dominican Republic was followed by ruthlessly efficient 2-0 and 1-0 wins over St Lucia and Antigua respectively. What will please coach Stephen Hart the most is the manner of the team performance. Captain Kenwyne Jones and Kevin Molino bagged the goals and constantly threatened opposition defences, whilst defensively the side was very disciplined. The only goal they leaked was due to a defensive error late in the first game when they were already 6-0 up against Dominican Republic. Placed in the next round against Cuba, Curacao and French Guiana, Trinidad will once again be favourites to finish in the top two and based on the form they have shown so far, you wouldn’t want to bet against them.
Key Player(s): Kevin Molino, Jorrin John
24-year-old Kevin Molino came into this tournament in fine form, having scored a record-breaking 25 goals for his club Orlando City in the United States. Confidence flowing, he needed no time to adjust to playing in different conditions. Molino bagged a fantastic hat-trick during his side’s 6-1 demolition of the Dominicans (which you can see via the video clip below, with some excellent commentary to boot), and also netted the winner against Antigua. Coach Hart declared that Molino “has good technique and his finishing is improving. He is on his way to being a top number 10.” Four goals in three games for the midfielder would seem to suggest so, for Molino is definitely one to keep an eye on in the next round.
For the second round, Leicester-born Jorrin John was brought into the Antiguan setup for the first time. An attacking midfielder for English Conference club, Nuneaton Town, John excelled in the two group matches he appeared in. The 23-year-old was bright on the ball, willing to take on his man and played an integral role in keeping his country’s midfield ticking. Deservedly, John picked up the Man of the Match award in the opener against St Lucia and his skill, vision and passing precision make him one to watch for Antigua in the next stage in November.
Surprise Team: Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua & Barbuda came into this group very confident: they had won all three group games in the previous round, including a 2-1 victory over fellow Group 7 opponents Dominican Republic. The question remained as to whether they could repeat such a feat this time and qualify for the final tournament. After going 1-0 down in the first game against St Lucia, Antigua launched a comeback, which has become their trademark in the competition, winning 2-1 with a last minute half-volley from Joshua Parker securing the points.
An edgy, lacklustre 0-0 draw with the Dominicans in the next game ensured that The Benna Boys, with other results going their way, had to avoid losing by five or more goals against Trinidad in order to qualify. They went onto suffer their first loss of the competition against Trinidad by a single goal, but ultimately could celebrate qualification via goal difference. Having gained victory after going behind in three of their six games, Antigua will be looking to start future matches in a better defensive fashion, especially as they will be considered distinct underdogs in their next group, which contains Jamaica, Haiti and Martinique.
Game of the Group: Antigua 2-1 St Lucia
St Lucia surprised many by qualifying for this stage. A well-organised side with a very solid defensive record, they were aided by the fact group favourites Guyana fielded an inexperienced side in the last round, so it remained to be seen how they would fare against tougher opposition. Starting off against Antigua, St Lucia took the lead through a brilliant free-kick from left-back Kurt Frederick just before half-time. However, Antigua exerted pressure in the second half and had overseas players Keiran Murtagh and Joshua Parker to thank for getting the goals which secured a 2-1 win. Parker’s goal in the 92nd minute was heart-breaking for St Lucia, and provided a dramatic end to an engrossing encounter that had been a great advertisement for the competition.
Whilst the group eventually turned out how many predicted, it was nevertheless full of dramatic turns and twists, with 18 goals being scored across the six games played. Trinidad asserted themselves as heavy favourites to win the competition as a whole, whilst Antigua demonstrated an efficiency to carve out results that could allow them to prosper in the next round, where they will be up against the odds in a very tough group. A mention for Dominican Republic, who will be disappointed at having seemingly regressed from 2012, when they qualified for the final tournament. Fortunate to make this stage as a result of goal difference, they failed to capitalize on the lifeline given to them and ultimately left the competition, ironically, because of having an inferior goal difference to Antigua. St Lucia will regret letting the result slip away against Antigua in the first game, as a victory or even a draw for them there could have changed the whole complexion of the group. The fact St Lucia finished their campaign with no points is rather cruel. But all-in-all, this was an engrossing group that proved to be thoroughly entertaining.
Group 8 – Haiti (hosts), Barbados, St Kitts & Nevis, French Guiana
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Best Team: French Guiana
A place in the final stage of the Caribbean Cup has been coming for French Guiana, after they made it to the group phase two years ago for only the second time in their history. The non-FIFA nation’s development in this year’s tournament has been quite remarkable. They started their journey back in May earlier this year in the preliminaries, and now find themselves in the finals with a great chance of qualifying for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, something they’ve never done before. French Guiana named a strong 20-man squad for the second round, incorporating foreign-based players such as Auxerre goalkeeper Donovan Léon, Finnish-based defender and captain Marvin Torvic, Kevin Rimane of Paris Saint-Germain’s B team as well as key forward, Gabriel Pigrée, who plays his football in the fifth tier of French football. Pigrée proved a valuable asset, contributing two goals across the three games, as he now tops the Caribbean Cup scoring charts with eight so far. An important reason behind the country’s success at this round was their result against hosts Haiti in the opener. With the crowd predominantly made up of vociferous Haitian supporters in Port-au-Prince, Jaïr Karam’s men conceded just before the half hour mark. They could have capitulated, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Mickaël Solvi pulled one back just one minute later. A lapse in concentration on the stroke of half time enabled Haiti back into it, however, French Guiana never gave in. It was thanks to a dire performance from the opponent’s stand-in goalkeeper, 32-year-old Dominique Jean-Zéphirin, who somehow put the ball in his own net, that meant the tie finished level.
The underlying theme from the next outing against St Kitts & Nevis was frustration, as Harry Panayiotou, making only his second appearance in The Sugar Boyz shirt, was red carded. A numerical advantage wasn’t fully exploited as the ever-reliable Pigrée headed home for French Guiana after neat build-up play and it looked as if they might have been able to add some more, but St Kitts came roaring back and won it.
The team headed into the last encounter with Barbados needing three points. A 2-0 victory gave them just that with Gilles Fabien and Pigrée on target. The objective of qualifying for the Caribbean Cup finals was achieved. Not without confusion, though. The confusion stemmed from a lack of understanding of the qualification rules; both French Guiana and St Kitts ended up level on points (4) and it was unclear whether goal difference or head-to-head meetings determined who advanced. Indeed, the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) never actually published the rules for this year’s tournament and seeing as in 2010 and 2012 they used head-to-head, plus CONCACAF has always adopted this approach, there was some head-scratching to be done. The only clarification that we have been given from the CFU is on their website, they have officially unveiled the final groups with French Guiana involved. Based on their performances at this round, though, the French overseas department more than warrants a place among the region’s elite.
Key Player(s): Gabriel Pigrée, Kervens Belfort
Pigrée has been touched on already but it would be unfair not to put him as a key player in this group, for his finishing prowess and general knack of being in the right place at the right time makes him a very useful weapon in French Guiana’s armory.
Another striker who impressed is Haiti’s Kervens Belfort, who was their shining light in an otherwise mediocre string of performances from the team. Belfort had played well in his country’s friendly defeat to Chile in September, and the 22-year-old carried this momentum with him into the Caribbean Cup. On loan at French side Grenoble from FC Sion of Switzerland, Belfort struck twice in Les Grenadiers’ 4-2 win over Barbados, the first of which was inside just three minutes. He sprinted forward and unleashed a powerful left-footed drive and the ball nestled in the back of the net, much to the home crowd’s delight. Belfort’s second was very similar as his left boot did the trick, sweeping home a cross from the left. He’s a man of many talents, too, with the video above showing Belfort rest a football on his neck whilst playing the piano. Easy.
Surprise Team: Barbados
Barbados, not necessarily considered as one of the strongest teams in the Caribbean, exceeded expectations in the first round having finished in the top two, just ahead of Bonaire and Suriname. There was a sense that this stage was a step too far for them – indeed they ended up in last place in the group – but they have a good account of themselves and deserve some recognition. Missing captain and leader, Emmerson Boyce, who was so heavily influential in September’s batch of games, 30-year-old Barry Skeete stepped in as his replacement in the centre of defence. In came Louis Moss, of Colywn Bay in the sixth tier of English football, and he made a difference with his overseas experience and organisational qualities. Although they didn’t qualify, The Bajan Tridents’ fighting spirit won them many admirers. Boss Colin Forde’s men ran out 3-2 winners in their opening game against St Kitts, a team which let in zero goals in the previous round. After falling behind early doors to a tidy Devaughn Elliott finish, Carl Joseph hit a stunning volley with his left foot and the goalkeeper was left stranded. It couldn’t have been anymore precise (2:28 on the video clip below).
A quickfire double from Arantees Lawrence, one of which a pinpoint shot into the top right corner, before the half hour mark meant Barbados were in control. A consolation from the youngster Panayiotou was too little too late for St Kitts, as Barbados pulled off a big win. Although this couldn’t be built on – as defeats to hosts Haiti in a six-goal thriller and French Guiana ensued – Barbados did exceptionally well to reach where they did. They recently appointed a new technical director for the national football programme, 65-year-old Brazillian Marcos Falopa, who has a vision for developing the game further on the island. It is an interesting and experimental appointment, which could have a great effect on the future of Barbadian football.
Game of the Group: Haiti 4-2 Barbados
It has to be this game purely for its entertainment factor. Right from the outset, with a mere three minutes on the clock, a goal had been scored. In fact, five had flew in before the half-time whistle was even blown. It was end-to-end stuff with both teams really going for it, and the raucous atmosphere generated from the terraces in Port-au-Prince was quite incredible in terms of the level of noise and passion.
So in summary, Haiti weren’t spectacular but they got the job done with the added bonus of playing on home soil. You could argue they were unlucky at times as two of their players turned the ball into their own net: the aforementioned Jean-Zéphirin but also Greek-based central defender Frantz Bertin. For sure, coach Marc Collat’s men will need to pick themselves up for the next round as they prepare to tackle hosts Jamaica, Martinique and Antigua. French Guiana’s journey in this year’s Caribbean Cup lives on as they dream of making the Gold Cup, what the federation’s vice-president Bernard Lama has called the nation’s version of the World Cup. They’ll be classed as the underdogs in Montego Bay in November, with Trinidad, Cuba and Curacao their opponents. St Kitts, meanwhile, didn’t play too badly at all and will count themselves a tad unfortunate not to have advanced, especially given the apparent ambiguity of the qualification rules. The team is made up of some good players, skipper Atiba Harris probably the pick of the bunch, and they look to be a nation that is making strides. Finally, Barbados fought hard and should be proud of their achievements.
Group 9 – Guadeloupe (hosts), St Vincent & the Grenadines, Martinique, Curacao
*Jon Arnold is our Group 9 correspondent. Editor of and columnist for Goal USA, Jon covers CONCACAF football for a living and appeared on our debut podcast back in April this year to preview the tournament
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Julien Faubert looks like he’ll prove a more than welcome addition to the team, with five goals in three matches the final tally for the Bordeaux captain. His experience can help massively, though Les Matinio has never exactly been a team full of fresh, young faces. His Ligue 1 quality couldn’t be contained by the group’s opponents, and though he’ll be facing more Premier League, Championship and MLS players when the finals roll around, the midfielder could cause problems and help make Martinique a legitimate contender.
Key Player(s): Papito Merencia
The 20-year-old has played just 37 professional minutes with ADO Den Haag and didn’t score in his previous two friendly appearances for Curacao. But when it came down to qualifying for the Caribbean Cup, Merencia found a stoppage-time goal not once but twice to put the island with a population of just more than 150,000 into the tournament finals for the first time since 1998. His 93rd-minute stoppage time tally against Guadeloupe made the difference – and his stoppage-time equalizer against Martinique in the first group match put the team in the position. Julien Faubert scored more goals, a few defenders stood strong, but no player impacted the group like Merencia.
Surprise Team: Curacao
This seemed to be the French territories’ group for the taking. Guadeloupe was hosting and Martinique showed in the earlier round of qualification that they can still put on the same kind of performances that saw them make noise in the 2013 Gold Cup. But coach Igemar Pieternella’s men continued to show resilience and tipped Guadeloupe at the last second to secure passage to Jamaica. Curacao haven’t been dominant in this or the previous round of qualification. In the last round, they fought for draws against hosts Puerto Rico and French Guiana with a comeback win over Grenada sandwiched between. This time out, though, they kept things reasonably tight in defence, conceding just two goals in the process.
Game of the Group: Guadeloupe 0-1 Curacao
The highlights above miss the goal, but the game had plenty of scoring opportunities only for keepers to deny or chances to go wanting. Seeing that deadlock broken in the final moment of stoppage time to send Curacao through, and seeing the celebration after, is what international football is all about.
Les Gwada Boys of Guadeloupe will be disappointed to miss out on the Caribbean Cup finals for a second-straight time after a runner-up spot in the 2010 edition launched an encouraging Gold Cup showing the next year. Martinique continue to be one of the class teams in the region, as mentioned in the “Best Team” section. A Gold Cup return is looking like a real possibility, and the favorites for the tournament should be wary of overlooking the team – especially if they continue to get contributions from veterans like Faubert. Curacao probably less so, with the team unlikely to continue coasting its way through matches, though the defence proved it can hold opponents with decent attacks. St Vincent, meanwhile, who were the competition’s runners-up in 1995, put up a good fight. To register a win over Curacao in the second group outing was an impressive result, while they more than played their part in the final set of matches against Martinique, narrowly losing out in a seven-goal thriller in Les Abymes. Still, the main takeaway is that Martinique is as good as expected and their quasi-countrymen in Guadeloupe aren’t – a result that could see football in the department continue to regress.
By site editor Nathan Carr, correspondents Santokie Nagulendran and Jon Arnold
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Big up to Santokie and Jon for their comment and insight. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.