This region’s pursuit of World Cup qualification is heating up as a total of 10 two-legged playoffs took place from 7-16 June, with five Caribbean islands advancing to the next round…
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: Santokie Nagulendran is our correspondent for St Vincent & the Grenadines – Guyana and St Kitts & Nevis – El Salvador while James Truscott is our correspondent for Antigua & Barbuda – St Lucia and Bermuda – Guatemala.
Note: The countries underlined have advanced to the next round.
Suriname – Nicaragua (aggregate 1-4)
07/06 – first leg in Managua: 1-0 (Chavarria 45′)
Carlos Chavarria’s strike on the stroke of half-time proved enough for Nicaragua to wrap up victory on home soil. But it wasn’t as straightforward for them as some might have predicted. Suriname, coached by former Feyenoord and Ajax midfielder Dean Gorre, gave a good account of themselves and managed to keep the score at just a one-goal margin. This meant that they could play with more attacking freedom in the return leg.
16/06 – second leg in Paramaribo: 1-3 (Fer 3′ — Leguias 26′, Rosas 51′, Chavarria 90+3′)
The Surinamese got off to a dream start when 20-year-old midfielder Roxey Fer broke the deadlock three minutes in. However, Raul Leguias replied before Manuel Rosas restored Nicaragua’s lead. The sole goalscorer in Managua, Chavarria, killed the game off in stoppage time as the Central Americans were too strong. ‘Project Suriname’ is yet to be ignited and there remains doubt over whether or not the country’s government will be able to acquire dual citizenship in agreement with the Netherlands. For now, Suriname are working with what they’ve got. But adding a handful of Dutch-born professionals would provide a huge boost in matches like WCQ; Curacao is a great case study.
Roxey Fer, who made his international debut in a friendly victory over Guyana in May earlier this year, displayed great energy and confidence to carry the ball past two Nicaraguan defenders and coolly dispatch for his first Surinamese goal. Vangelino Sastrodimedjo, wearing the armband, covered plenty of ground in central midfield.
Curacao – Cuba (aggregate 1-1)
10/06 – first leg in Willemstad: 0-0
Both teams had prepared for this match-up by playing friendlies. In late May, Curacao faced Suriname in an ‘unofficial friendly’ and won 3-2 before recording an impressive 1-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago in early June, so they generated momentum. Cuba, meanwhile, hosted US club New York Cosmos and lost 1-4 in a symbolic match marking the reconciliation process between the two countries. So the pair were in good shape fitness wise but the first leg failed to deliver, the only eventful moment being Gianluca Maria’s sending off in the 87th minute.
14/06 – second leg in Havana: 1-1 (Marquez 5′ — Merencia 16′)
What a crazy game of football. The hosts stormed into an early lead through veteran captain Yenier Marquez before, moments later, Papito Merencia found the net from long range following neat dribbling and a layoff from Michael Maria. In half-time stoppage time the referee brandished a straight red card for Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez, who rushed off his line and completely took out the oncoming Curacaoan player. Minutes later play had to be stopped because of torrential rainfall that rendered the pitch unsuitable. After 30-45 minutes of waiting, once the weather had slowly improved, the action got underway again and the crowd saw no goals in the second half. Thanks to the away goals rule, Patrick Kluivert’s Curacao qualified for the next round, knocking out much-fancied Leones del Caribe in Havana.
Papito Merencia is developing a useful habit of scoring important goals for his country. He netted the goal that sent Curacao through to the Caribbean Cup finals last year and scored in both rounds of WCQ, against Montserrat and most recently Cuba. He looks to be fulfilling his potential on the international stage.
St Vincent & the Grenadines – Guyana (aggregate 6-6)
10/06 – first leg in Kingstown: 2-2 (Stewart 49′, Slater 83′ — Beresford 26′, Shakes 75′)
The first leg was overshadowed by news in the morning that Guyana’s four UK-based players Matthew Briggs, Neil Danns, Sam Cox and Marcel Barrington were not eligible for this match due to passport issues. Nevertheless, a resilient Guyana side took to the field and soaked up St Vincent’s early pressure before midfielder Brandon Beresford scored for Guyana. St Vincent equalised through Cornelius Stewart in the second half, before Ricky Shakes once again helped Guyana take the lead. A late Vincy Heat equaliser from Tevin Slater with seven minutes plus stoppage time remaining meant there was all to play for in the ensuing leg.
14/06 – second leg in Providence: 4-4 (Welshman 39′, 76′, Danns PK 50′, 86′ — Samuel 16′, Slater 41′, 57′, Anderson 66′)
This turned out to be a classic tie. St Vincent dominated against a very lacklustre Guyanese defence – racing into the lead on three different occasions – although the Golden Jaguars, aided by the inclusion of Danns, who scored twice, fought back valiantly throughout. A spectacular bicycle kick by Vincentian youngster Oalex Anderson proved to be the highlight of a dramatic game and led to the elimination of Guyana on away goals. Defender Briggs was unable to feature due to a legal issue with the English FA and his omission was felt by the home side. The tie finished 6-6 on aggregate and St Vincent progressed, to the surprise of many.
Note: As of writing, the Guyana Football Federation has written an appeal to FIFA contesting the eligibility of Vincy Heat striker Gavin James, and as such, the tie could be ruled in Guyana’s favour.
It was striker Tevin Slater, a relative newcomer to the squad dubbed ”the cool assassin”, who stole the show. He appeared off the bench in the first leg and scored a late equaliser before completing two goals on away soil that secured St Vincent’s passage to the next round.
Aruba – Barbados (aggregate 0-3)
10/06 – first leg in Oranjestad: 0-2 (Boyce 18′, 28′)
Hang on, Barbados claim a 0-3 aggregate win and Aruba qualify? How does that work? Well, it was confirmed by FIFA earlier this week that Barbados have been kicked out for fielding an ineligible player. Hadan Holligan accumulated two yellow cards, one in the first round against US Virgin Islands and another against Aruba in Oranjestad, so he shouldn’t have played in the return match. The Match Commissioner failed to check and Holligan featured, going against the rules, so Aruba were awarded a 3-0 victory. It’s heartbreaking from a Barbadian point of view to be eliminated over something as silly as this, especially when they produced such a good performance on Aruban soil with leader Emmerson Boyce grabbing two goals.
14/06 – second leg in Cave Hill: 1-0 (Holligan 78′)
Indeed, Holligan actually scored the only goal in this one which made his involvement even more controversial. Seemingly nobody at FIFA, the Barbados FA or Aruba FA bothered to go over the eligibility of every player before kick-off. They’re all partly to blame. For Aruba, they’ll no doubt be delighted with the scoreline being reversed but they would have preferred to qualify on merit, of course. Free agent Erixon Danso and N.E.C. midfielder Gregor Breinburg, both born in the Netherlands, were called up for the first time, adding more quality and experience. In fact, 14 members of Aruba’s squad for this round were contracted to Dutch clubs. A failure to score in either leg will concern boss Giovanni Franken and that will have to be addressed. They’ll have to improve for August and September’s batch of games, but a plus point for them is that they’re in Pot A, meaning there’s a greater chance of drawing a supposedly ‘weaker’ opponent.
He played an important role in Barbados’ comeback in the previous round and an even bigger role this time, with Emmerson Boyce completing an impressive double in Oranjestad, finding himself in the right place at the right time on two occasions. A disappointment for him that it now results in nothing.
Antigua & Barbuda – St Lucia (aggregate 5-4)
Note: St Lucia’s 9,000 capacity home stadium, Vieux Fort National Stadium, was deemed unfit for use by FIFA so both legs took place at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound.
10/06 – first leg in North Sound: 1-3 (Harriette 21′ — Paul 26′, Henry 61′, Greenidge 90+1′)
The first leg delivered one of the biggest shocks of CONCACAF WCQ so far, as much-fancied Antigua were defeated by St Lucia, whose team largely consists of locally-based amateurs. Such a result didn’t seem likely when pacy forward Tevaughn Harriette scored with a low, powerful drive from the edge of the area after some scrappy St Lucian defending to give Antigua a one-goal lead with 21 minutes on the clock. However, St Lucian midfielder Tremain Paul followed up some quick passing from his teammates to score with an equally powerful shot that levelled the scoreline five minutes later. That equaliser led to some shaky Antiguan defending after half-time which enabled David Henry to give St Lucia an unlikely lead. Antigua struggled to create many chances despite having lots of possession, and they were yet again made to rue that fact when substitute Troy Greenidge secured a surprise victory with a ‘free’ header at the death.
14/06 – second leg in North Sound: 1-4 (Frederick PK 81′ — Parker 70′, 90+3′, Harriette 85′, Tumwa 90+5′)
St Lucia put lots of men behind the ball and allowed Antigua to dominate possession in an attempt to prevent them from overturning the two-goal deficit on aggregate. However, the Benna Boys eventually broke the deadlock as a through ball found the captain, Joshua Parker, and he finished clinically to give his team the lead. Moments later Malik St Prix was recklessly brought down by Antiguan centre-back Aaron Tumwa in the penalty area and St Lucia were awarded a spot kick. Highly rated W Connection full-back Kurt Frederick subsequently tucked away the penalty with ease to draw level. St Lucia were understandably combative whilst trying to maintain their lead on aggregate, but attempts to use their physicality to their advantage backfired and red cards for Zaccheus Polius and Jamil Joseph made it increasingly difficult for St Lucia to keep the Antiguan attackers at bay. Harriette added to his goal in the previous leg with a close-range finish before Parker added to the late flurry of goals in stoppage time to make it 3-1 to Antigua on the day and 4-4 on aggregate. There was no need for extra time, though, because Tumwa made amends for his previous error by firing in a last-gasp volley to send the crowd into raptures five minutes into injury time. It was a dramatic and fantastic comeback against an ill-disciplined St Lucian team to win 5-4 on aggregate.
It has to be Benna Boys midfielder Joshua Parker, who currently plays for Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade, for being ‘Captain Fantastic’ and contributing a brace in the second leg to spearhead his team’s successful comeback.
Dominica – Canada (aggregate 0-6)
11/06 – first leg in Roseau: 0-2 (Larin 5′, Teibert PK 63′)
Given the disparity in population and player pool between the two nations, Dominica should take heart from losing by only two goals to regional powerhouses Canada. Conceding so early on from Cyle Larin was disappointing from a Dominican perspective because this dented their game-plan and allowed Canada to control the game one goal ahead. Russell Teibert doubled Canada’s tally midway through the second half to virtually assure a place in the following round, with the Nature Boyz knowing that they simply had to yield something at home to have any legitimate chance. It wasn’t a hammering, but sadly a predictable outcome nonetheless.
16/06 – second leg in Toronto: 4-0 (Akindele 4′, Larin 41′, Ricketts 52′, 77′)
Dominica were stretched and pulled out of position on too many occasions for Canada not to score a comfortable amount of goals. Again, their start to proceedings let them down when Tesho Akindele was on target less than five minutes in. Larin slotted home for number two before Tosaint Ricketts bagged a brace to ensure a 6-0 aggregate score. Dominica’s offensive assets such as Randolph Peltier, Julian Wade, Mitchell Joseph and Sidney Lockhart weren’t able to impose themselves and Canada’s extra quality in attack was too much for Dominica’s defence to handle. They must learn and benefit from this experience and not feel embarrassed or disheartened about it. That way they’ll be better prepared for playing a similar calibre of opposition next time round.
A mention for Dominica captain and goalkeeper Glenson Prince, who stood strong to largely keep the Canadians at bay in Roseau. He was always going to face a much tougher test away from home. Perhaps it’s worth noting teenager Anfernee Frederick, a talented and energetic playmaker, who was used as a substitute in both games. Formerly on the books of Bath Estate, he recently joined W Connection in Trinidad & Tobago.
St Kitts & Nevis – El Salvador (aggregate 3-6)
11/06 – first leg in Basseterre: 2-2 (Mitchum 68′, Sawyers 71′ — Herrera 41′, Bonilla 86′)
St Kitts came into this tie as underdogs: Caribbean teams famously struggle when facing Central American opposition. Things seemed to be going according to script when Irving Herrera gave El Salvador the lead, and more crucially an away goal, before St Kitts roared back with a beautiful volley from Orlando Mitchum. Romaine Sawyers gave the home side a 2-1 lead, however, that wasn’t the end as El Salvador equalised late on through striker Nelson Bonilla and took a priceless 2-2 away draw.
16/06 – second leg in San Salvador: 4-1 (Ceren 2′, Bonilla 54′, 80′, Alvarez 62′ — Harris 69′)
You felt that St Kitts needed to win the first leg in order to have a chance of progressing from the round, and that was emphasised in brutal fashion with a clinical home display from the El Salvadorians. They coasted to a 3-0 lead before Sugar Boyz star player Atiba Harris pulled back a consolation goal. Nelson Bonilla had the last say, scoring his third goal of the round to ensure a 4-1 victory for El Salvador and qualification. Hard luck for St Kitts – a strong Caribbean team who were drawn against one of the better teams in CONCACAF.
An attack-minded midfielder who plays for Walsall in England, Romaine Sawyers continued to cement his position as a rising star in the team with consistently good performances in both legs, including scoring a lovely goal in the 2-2 draw. Special mention also goes to Devaughn Elliott, who came on as a substitute in both legs, and made a suitable impression for El Salvadorian club Pasaquina to sign him afterwards.’
Dominican Republic – Belize (aggregate 1-5)
11/06 – first leg in Santo Domingo: 1-2 (Lombardi 71′ — McCaulay 13′, 88′)
A managerial change – Cheche Rodriguez quit after a matter of weeks in charge and was replaced by Juan Mojica – and anger from fans directed toward federation chief Osiris Guzman created a difficult environment for Dominican Republic’s players to work in. Ironically, the new manager’s son and left-back, Josimar, gave away a penalty having blatantly clipped Belize winger Daniel Jimenez. Star man Deon McCaulay saw his spot kick saved but was alert to gobble up the rebound. A free-kick was met by Geremy Lombardi of Parma with under 20 minutes remaining and it seemed as if this would end up a draw. McCaulay had other ideas and slotted home in the dying minutes to give Belize another crucial away goal with the home players stunned. Dominican Republic had battled hard to equalize and that was thrown out of the window so late on.
14/06 – second leg in Belmopan: 3-0 (Rochez 17′, Kuylen 37′, McCaulay 76′)
Mojica’s men never got going in the return leg. Belize, a developing footballing country that qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013, were sharper and faster to every ball. The visitors couldn’t cope with Belize’s attacking intent whereas the likes of Jonathan Fana, Kerbi Rodriguez, Alfonso Marte and Jean Carlos Lopez, who won the country’s Footballer of the Year award in 2014, failed to make an impact for Dominican Republic. They weren’t as good as their opponents in an organisational and strategic respect. They possess some naturally talented players and set up a professional league in March but are massively underachieving on the international stage. There’s allegations of corruption at Guzman and the federation with an online petition designed to sack him. Once and if they can sort out off-field issues, then they stand a much better chance of competing.
Luis Ismael Diaz was very impressive in the first leg with his performance dropping off a little in the second. The 24-year-old, who plays as a central defender for Barcelona Atletico in Dominican Republic’s professional league, made several key interceptions and blocks, showing that he could pass out from the back too. He scored the winning goal against Haiti in the Copa Quisqueya earlier this month.
Bermuda – Guatemala (aggregate 0-1)
12/06 – first leg in Guatemala City: 0-0
As Bermuda entered the game buoyed by their six match unbeaten streak, all the pressure was on the hosts Guatemala who boasted three MLS players in their starting eleven, while Bermuda were without Huddersfield Town striker and star player Nakhi Wells. Although the match ended in a goalless draw, it was far from boring, as Guatemala controversially had three goals disallowed and for a short period of time the floodlights went out. Guatemala squandered numerous chances but Bermuda were also guilty, Wayne Bean seeing his header sail into the gloves of Guatemala goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez. Bermuda’s delight with the final result was exemplified by their manager, Andrew Bascome, enthusiastically embracing his goalkeeper Freddy Hall after the final whistle had sounded. This result put Bermuda in a strong position.
15/06 – second leg in Devonshire: 0-1 (Cincotta 25′)
Bermuda knew they’d need to be well organised defensively to upset the odds yet again, but Guatemala showed attacking intent from the outset, missing a string of clear cut chances in the first twenty minutes. Stefano Cincotta, a player in the German third tier, ensured there would be no repeat of the first leg’s goalless scoreline when he put his side ahead courtesy of an accurate left-footed volley that beat Dale Eve. Eve would later receive a scare when he almost fumbled a Marco Pappa corner into his own net due to its unpredictable bounce, but the technically superior Guatemalans controlled proceedings and ultimately prevailed despite a valiant defensive performance from Bermuda. Overall, Bermuda can be proud of their performances over the two legs despite losing narrowly on aggregate. They exhibited strong organisation and maturity which hints at their young team having a positive future ahead of them, whereas Guatemala will probably be relieved to have scraped through.
The whole defensive line must be praised for keeping a clean sheet in Guatemala City and then nearly replicating that same feat on home turf. Dante Leverock of Harrisburg City Islanders was at the heart of this solidity and at 23 years of age, he is showing real signs of maturity.
Puerto Rico – Grenada (aggregate 1-2)
12/06 – first leg in Bayamon: 1-0 (Bozkurt 16′)
In what was a close encounter, Puerto Rico made a promising start to their WCQ campaign by registering a narrow 1-0 win over Grenada. US-born Deniz Bozkurt, who received his first senior cap in March’s friendly defeat to Canada, opened his international account by giving Puerto Rico the lead on 16 minutes. It was his looping shot from outside the box that flew over Grenadian custodian Jason Belfon and into the bottom corner, much to the delight of those locals watching at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon. Now Puerto Rico’s objective was to finish it off four days later, but Grenada had other ideas.
16/06 – second leg in St George’s: 2-0 (Morales O.G 34′, Charles 81′)
In terms of chances on goal, it’s fair to say that Puerto Rico racked up more but the likes of Joseph Marrero and Hector Ramos were too wasteful. Grenada got some luck just after the half hour mark when Puerto Rican defender Joan Morales turned the ball into his own net. This shifted the momentum in Grenada’s favour and with nine minutes left, Moron Philip swung in an inviting corner which was met by substitute Jamal Charles, whose towering header was too powerful to keep out. On the whole, Puerto Rico probably edged it over both legs but the Spice Boyz’s fighting spirit and resolve enabled them to turn it around. This was with a predominantly local-based squad – Tyrone Sterling, Anthony Straker and Aaron Pierre should make appearances for the next round. Earlier this year Grenada FA President, Cheney Joseph, was working on persuading the likes of Jay Simpson and Reuben Noble-Lazarus to jump on board. They’d be significant additions, if they come off.
San Juan-born midfielder Andres Cabrero, who made his international debut age 19, proved a useful asset in Puerto Rico’s midfield. He currently plays his club football with Kultsu FC in Finland, the same as teammates Juan Coca and Alex Oikkonen. From a Grenadian perspective, a shout-out to teenager Jamal Charles for scoring the all-important winner to follow up the two goals he netted against St Lucia in May’s Windward Islands tournament.
OVERVIEW – Teams that have progressed to third round qualification
- Nicaragua, Curacao, St Vincent, Aruba, Antigua, Canada, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Grenada
Note: All third round ties will work on a two-legged basis. They will be played in August and September 2015.
Note: The draw for the third, fourth and fifth (Hex) rounds will be held on 25 July, at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna, St Petersburg, Russia.
Note: The number in brackets denotes each team’s ranking within FIFA from July 2015. Jamaica and Haiti enter in the third round, joined by the 10 winners from the second round. From here, a total of six teams will qualify for the fourth round, joining Costa Rica, Mexico, United States, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.
Jamaica (76) – Haiti (79) – Canada (103) – Antigua & Barbuda (107) – El Salvador (88) – Guatemala (105)
St Vincent & the Grenadines (115) – Grenada (160) – Aruba (135) – Belize (118) – Nicaragua (143) – Curacao (149)
By site editor Nathan Carr, correspondents Santokie Nagulendran and James Truscott
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Big up to Santokie and James for their time and input. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.