St Vincent & the Grenadines, Haiti and Jamaica are the Caribbean sides to qualify from Round 3, which took place across four days in early September. Here’s the lowdown…
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: The countries underlined have advanced to the next round.
St Vincent & the Grenadines – Aruba (aggregate 3-2)
04/09 – first leg in Arnos Vale: 2-0 (Slater 50′, Anderson PK 90′)
After suffering an early psychological setback when Cornelius Stewart’s penalty was saved by Aruban goalkeeper Eric Abdul, St Vincent picked themselves up and took control of the tie. Stewart might have stumbled, but such are the options in the Vincentian attack that they needn’t worry. The highly rated 21-year-old Tevin Slater, named his country’s Senior Footballer of the Year in July, once more underlined his goal-scoring qualities in the 50th minute. One-on-one with Abdul, he remained cool and composed to poke the ball home and give his team the lead. It was doubled in the final stages when Erik Santos brought down Oalex Anderson inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Seattle Sounders’ Anderson just about squeezed in his penalty with Abdul unable to cope with the power generated. St Vincent’s impressive strike-force had been highlighted – without the injured Myron Samuel too – while Aruba failed to mount much of a goal threat. That needed to change if they were to turn things round on home soil.
08/09 – second leg in Oranjestad: 2-1 (Danso 4′, 50′ — Slater 84′)
Newly installed Aruban boss Rini Coolen – brought in by the FA specifically for these two WCQ games – must have said something significant to his players prior to kick-off. They came right out of the blocks and were on the front foot during the early exchanges. Amsterdam-born winger Erixon Danso looked particularly threatening going forward and his craft and sharpness was rewarded when defender Kevin Francis and goalkeeper Winslow McDowald were caught sleeping. A ball was played over the top, Francis paused, McDowald was too slow off his line and Danso pounced, producing a lob that trickled over the line. This was a fantastic and justified start for Aruba. Danso grabbed his second five minutes after half-time, albeit in rather fortunate fashion as Phaedrick Baromeo’s long-range strike crashed off the post, hit McDowald’s back and fell nicely for the loitering Danso who tapped in. The momentum was now firmly with the hosts. However, St Vincent’s defence held strong after that and they knew they carried a threat in attack. With the scores level on aggregate in the final few minutes, Slater was picked out in the left channel and he outmuscled Dwight Oehlers before finding the bottom corner of the net. He’d sent his team through to the next round with his fifth goal in WCQ overall. Aruba may feel hard done by having produced a much better performance on home soil, but ultimately they didn’t do enough over the two legs. What a year it’s been so far for Vincy Heat: crowned Windward Islands champions in May and now preparing for matches against USA, T&T and Guatemala in Group C of Round 4. In Anderson, Stewart, Slater, Samuel (when back from injury) and English-born Gavin James they have one of the deadliest strike-forces in the Caribbean.
Grenada – Haiti (aggregate 1-6)
04/09 – first leg in St George’s: 1-3 (Straker PK 33′ — Maurice 27′, Jerome 39′, Nazon 55′)
Haiti were expected to come out on top and they did, scoring six goals and conceding one across both games. The team carried on their momentum from this summer’s Gold Cup where they finished second in Group A and reached the knockout phase. Manager Marc Collat was able to call upon the same group of players who served him so well during July’s tournament. In truth Haiti could have been two goals up inside 20 minutes if it wasn’t for Kervens Belfort’s wastefulness in front of goal. The visitors were creating chances and it was only a matter of time before one went in. Just before the half-hour mark, left-footed winger Wilde-Donald Guerrier delivered a great cross into Jean-Eudes Maurice who jumped above his markers and headed in. Grenada’s response was encouraging, though, and they won a penalty six minutes later albeit in very fortunate circumstances. Pascal Millien was unfairly penalised for what the referee perceived as handball, although on replay it shows that Asward Phillip’s shot clearly hit Millien’s face. York City’s Anthony Straker took responsibility and made no mistake from the spot to restore parity. A superb free-kick from defender Mechack Jerome sent Haiti into the lead for a second time before in-form Duckens Nazon – the star of his side’s Gold Cup campaign – wrapped up victory shortly after half-time. Guerrier was again heavily influential as his pinpoint cross found Nazon and the Stade Lavallois striker ruthlessly dispatched. It was a near-perfect away performance and result for Les Grenadiers.
08/09 – second leg in Port-au-Prince: 3-0 (Guerrier 26′, Nazon 38′, Belfort 50′)
The impetus was with Haiti for this return leg and they took full advantage, scoring at important times during the match to put Grenada to bed and secure qualification to the next phase. Guerrier, who was reportedly linked with the likes of Bayer Leverkusen and Benfica earlier this year, broke the deadlock midway through the first half when he finished off some tidy work by Maurice. The move stemmed from static Grenadian defending and Maurice was allowed too much space to dribble through, past Jason Belfon and into the path of Guerrier. It was an ideal start for Collat’s men with the home crowd expectant. Grenada’s poor defending continued and Haiti capitalized. Spice Boyz skipper Shannon Phillip unnecessarily pushed up the field leaving behind his central defensive partner and Wycombe Wanderers representative Aaron Pierre – he played on Nazon who displayed remarkable control and composure to eliminate Belfon and the recovering Pierre before converting with the goal gaping. A complete lack of communication at the back cost Grenada. The hosts weren’t done there, however, as Belfort made it three after racing onto a through ball by left-back Alex Christian and rounding the goalkeeper to score. There were suspicions of offside but on replay Belfort was probably just on. It was another example of Haiti punishing and exploiting Grenada’s defensive deficiencies: Pierre should have been goal-side of Belfort and indeed the whole defensive unit shouldn’t have been so high up the pitch, knowing Haiti possess speed in attack. They made it easy for Haiti to open them up and each goal required Belfon to rush out and attempt a block, yet each time Haiti’s forwards were one step ahead in their thinking and decision-making. To compound Grenada’s misery, they lacked a cutting edge in the final third and therefore never really troubled the opposition back-line. It’s fair to say this was a thoroughly deserved victory for Haiti.
Curacao – El Salvador (aggregate 0-2)
04/09 – first leg in Willemstad: 0-1 (Larin 12′)]
On the face of it this wasn’t such a bad result for Curacao. It meant they weren’t completely out of it and still had a feasible chance of qualifying. Having said that, the team and particularly manager Patrick Kluivert would have been disappointed to concede so early on from Alexander Larin whose run from deep wasn’t tracked. Jose Angel Pena found a pocket of space and was allowed to turn and roam by the Curacao midfield, nobody closing down or cutting out a potential pass, and Pena cleverly slipped in Larin who finished high into the net. Maybe Curacao’s captain Cuco Martina – a summer signing for Southampton – could have done better in tracking Larin and steering him away from goal. Credit to Kluivert’s men for the way in which they responded, though. They put El Salvador under some sustained pressure through a series of different chances. Firstly they had the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside, rightly so. Then Gevaro Nepomuceno cut inside from the right flank and unleashed a booming left-footed shot which was repelled by Henry Hernandez. Gino van Kessel made a good run and was picked out shortly after however his progress was prevented by a solid El Salvadorian slide-tackle. It wasn’t as if Curacao were utterly dominated and played off the park. They created opportunities and players such as Nepomuceno, van Kessel and Michael Maria showed flashes of promise. But to go to San Salvador, score two goals and keep a clean sheet was going to be a considerable task.
08/09 – second leg in San Salvador: 1-0 (Barrios 9′)
That task was made doubly difficult and their game-plan went out the window when, just like four days previously, they conceded before the 15th minute mark. This time from a set-piece as Jonathan Barrios squeezed his header past Eloy Room. A nightmare start. For this game Kluivert decided to introduce centre-forward Felitciano Zschusschen, on loan at FC Oss from FC Twente, who was an unused substitute in the first leg. He scored against Montserrat in the first round and is more of a traditional striker than van Kessel, who plays out wide and drifts in. The pair linked up well and van Kessel found himself through on goal, from a relatively tight angle, but his shot flew way over. In the second half Larin had to dramatically clear van Kessel’s effort off the line to maintain his side’s lead before Nepomuceno saw his fierce free-kick tipped over the bar by Hernandez. The goal just wouldn’t come. Kluivert should be proud of taking this team to Round 3, his influence in terms of professionalism and style of play has been evident. Now Curacao look towards next year’s Caribbean Cup and the 2017 Gold Cup. The FA’s President Rignaal ‘Jean’ Francisca says: “The next project is Gold Cup 2017 and we’re counting on the current players for this.” It is hoped that Kluivert will stay on in an advisory capacity and the national football programme continues to grow.
Canada – Belize (aggregate 4-1)
Note: Given this website primarily covers and focuses on Caribbean football, there’s no detailed write-up for Canada – Belize, only dates, venues and scores. It’s worth checking out Canada Soccer and/or Belize Football for information on this tie.
04/09 – first leg in Toronto: 3-0 (Ricketts 25′, 64′, Hutchinson 90′)
08/09 – second leg in Belmopan: 1-1 (McCaulay 25′ — Johnson 45′)
Jamaica – Nicaragua (aggregate 4-3)
04/09 – first leg in Kingston: 2-3 (Mattocks 69′, Mariappa 78′ — Rosas PK 5′, Chavarria 8′, Galeano 47′)
This wasn’t written in the script. Who would have predicted Jamaica to be three goals down to Nicaragua on home turf after 47 minutes? Everything seemed to go wrong for them from the outset. Kemar Lawrence’s blatant handball gifted Nicaragua a dream start and Lawrence was again at fault for the second goal, failing to get back into position with Carlos Chavarria able to run through and score. The Jamaican mistakes continued into the second half. Michael Hector surrendered possession in his own half, Nicaragua broke at speed and nobody bothered to mark Luis Galeano who couldn’t miss from less than a metre out. Jamaica were being outmuscled and outplayed. There was no organisation or shape to the team which was most peculiar given these were the core qualities that led them all the way to this summer’s Gold Cup final, where they lost to Mexico. They needed something from somewhere. Darren Mattocks gave them a lifeline before Adrian Mariappa added another, lifting the Jamaican crowd and building hope for the return leg in Managua. Those two goals from Mattocks and Mariappa were absolutely crucial.
08/09 – second leg in Managua: 0-2 (Mattocks 13′, Dawkins 89′)
The Reggae Boyz needed to score two goals and keep a clean sheet to qualify on aggregate and avoid a humiliating early elimination from WCQ. The conditions were difficult with the crowd predominantly backing and cheering on Nicaragua. Yet it was Jamaica who took the lead through Mattocks, left unmarked inside the penalty area he calmly finished Wes Morgan’s knockdown. This was exactly what Winfried Schafer’s men wanted: an early goal to quieten the crowd and stifle Nicaragua’s attack. One more goal would do it, but defensively they had to keep their discipline. As the minutes passed Jamaica threw more and more men forward hoping that somebody could be the hero. And in the 89th minute the comeback was complete. Lawrence took one of his signature long throw-ins, the ball wasn’t completely cleared and Simon Dawkins was there to volley home and send everyone connected with Jamaica into a frenzy. It was a delicious volley from Dawkins, who displayed wonderful composure and technique under a lot of pressure. Heartbreak for Nicaragua but sheer happiness and indeed relief for Jamaica. They just about avoided what would have been a disastrous exit from WCQ. For sure, they cannot play like that in Round 4 otherwise better opposition will make them pay.
Antigua & Barbuda – Guatemala (aggregate 1-2)
04/09 – first leg in St John’s: 1-0 (Weston PK 73′)
Guatemala’s recent struggles against Caribbean opposition – scraping through Round 2 against Bermuda and losing 3-1 to T&T in the Gold Cup – continued here in this match as Antigua recorded a very impressive 1-0 win over their Central American counterparts. With a strong squad comprised of players playing mostly in England and domestically, the Benna Boys more than held their own and certainly did enough to win the first leg. Southend United’s Myles Weston looked dangerous down the left wing and made some positive, forward runs past the full-back while Jorrin John saw his long-range effort parried away for a corner. Guatemala had several chances of their own but goalkeeper Molvin James was resolute in between the sticks. You could sense that if Antigua kept on applying pressure they’d eventually get the breakthrough. And they did with around 15 minutes remaining when the ball hit a Guatemalan hand, the referee pointed to the spot. Weston – who had impressed throughout the game – stepped up and powered his penalty into the bottom right corner to give his side an important cushion heading into the second fixture. Guatemala responded by hitting the post shortly after and the final few minutes were rather manic, but the hosts got over the line. Three years ago Antigua had lost to Guatemala by the same scoreline and now they’d reversed the result, which is indicative of their progress over the past few years.
08/09 – second leg in Guatemala City: 2-0 (Ruiz 62′, Lopez 75′)
For Antigua this game was all about retaining their lead and possibly adding to it should the opportunities arise. The game-plan was to defend deep and counter-attack using the pace of Weston, John, Tevaughn Harriette and Mahlon Romeo out wide. But this approach never really came to fruition as Guatemala had the majority of possession and chances. They defended well and didn’t let Antigua have as much attacking freedom as before. The Guatemalan captain Carlos Ruiz scored a header to make the scores level on aggregate – there was not sufficient pressure on the player crossing and very poor marking on Ruiz inside the box. Quinton Griffith’s mini tantrum following that goal sums up the Antiguan reaction. Originating from a short corner, Guatemala’s second was a sloppy goal to concede. The visitors switched off, the ball was crossed in and Denniss Lopez showed more appetite to rise highest and connect. There’s nothing Icelandic-based goalkeeper Brentton Muhammed could do. At full-time the Antiguan players fell to their knees knowing that a fantastic opportunity to progress in WCQ had disappeared. They were ultimately undone by a better quality performance from Guatemala, who really upped their game in Guatemala City. Lots of positives to take for the Caribbean team, though. They shouldn’t feel too disheartened.
OVERVIEW – Teams that have progressed to fourth round qualification
- St Vincent, Haiti, El Salvador, Canada, Jamaica, Guatemala
Note: All fourth round ties will work on a home-and-away round-robin basis. They will be played from November 2015 to September 2016.
Note: See fourth round groups (A-C) below.
By Nathan Carr