Two goals from Elson Hooi gave Curacao a 2-1 victory over defending champions Jamaica and their first ever Caribbean Cup title…
REPORTING FROM FORT-DE-FRANCE, MARTINIQUE – So there we have it. Curacao are the new kings of the Caribbean after overcoming defending champions Jamaica in the final, 1-2, with Elson Hooi scoring a brace and picking up the tournament MVP award. This is Curacao’s first Caribbean Cup title – stretching back to when they were represented as the Netherlands Antilles – and an historic triumph for the Dutch-speaking island.
They stormed into the lead through small attacking midfielder Hooi, whose tame effort on goal on the edge of the 18-yard box slowly found its way into the bottom corner. Leandro Bacuna and Gevaro Nepomuceno had done well initially in the build up to shift the ball across to Hooi. This was a fantastic start for Curacao. But what do they do now? Attack and go for another or sit back a little and protect their lead?
With Jamaica offering little resistance – they struggled to impose themselves on the game and gave away too many cheap wayward passes – Curacao continued to play their usual passing game, with each player equally comfortable on the ball. Jarchinio Antonia played a magnificent through ball into Nepomuceno whose low cross was cut out by Dwayne Miller as Rangelo Janga was waiting to finish off what would have been a super counter-attack.
The first half was not without its fierce challenges. Michael Binns was booked after going in hard on Cuco Martina and the Curacao captain let Binns know just how unhappy he was with the challenge. Bacuna was also given a yellow card after elbowing Owayne Gordon in the face unnecessarily.
Jamaica were forced into making an early substitution when Shaun Francis picked up an injury meaning he could not continue. Rosario Harriott replaced him to play at right-back and Oniel Fisher switched over to left-back.
Bacuna fizzed his free-kick marginally wide of the post and Cory Burke headed over Ewan Grandison’s inviting delivery leading up to half-time. But at the break Curacao were in control, both in terms of the scoreline and their overall dominance on proceedings. The Reggae Boyz had not got going, similar to the way in which they started against French Guiana on Thursday when they only started to really play with any rhythm after the break. To Curacao’s credit, they were well organised and well versed defensively.
On came Ricardo Morris, who made a telling impact for Jamaica in their semi-final victory over French Guiana. Shortly after his introduction, the Jamaicans did put the ball in the back of the net through Burke but he was penalised for a foul. Shamar Nicholson replaced Burke as the defending champions looked to produce a late rally and find an equalizer; the recent passing of Captain Horace Burrell no doubt in their minds serving as a source of motivation.
That equalizer arrived in the final 10 minutes. Binns swung in the free-kick, Nicholson tried to guide his header past Eloy Room but instead teed up his teammate Harriott who bundled in to draw his team level. The Curacaoan backline switched off and were punished. Jerome Waite and Warren Barrett raced out onto the touchline to shout instructions to their players. Barrett was highlighting the need for mental concentration, knowing that there was not much time remaining.
As the old football saying goes, though, you’re at your most vulnerable when you’ve just scored. By the time Jamaica had regrouped and set up again, Curacao went up the other end and that man again, Hooi, popped up to score emphatically inside the penalty area. The substitute Gino van Kessel displayed real composure to look up and find his teammate in space. A perfect response from Remko Bicentini’s side, but a disastrous one from the Reggae Boyz. You will get punished for lapses in concentration at this level as that goal proved.
Doriano Kortstam came on for the match-winner Hooi with several minutes left to shore things up in midfield. It is testament to the quality Curacao possess that one of the top scorers in qualifying, Felitciano Zschusschen, wasn’t used at all during the tournament. And van Kessel, who is joint at the top with Zschusschen, had to settle with cameos off the bench.
The final few minutes saw Curacao keep the ball and professionally close out the game. When the referee Michel Rodriguez sounded his final whistle, the players and staff ran onto the pitch to celebrate an historic achievement. The Jamaicans, meanwhile, trudged off the pitch, heads down and bitterly disappointed with the result. You can bet that this same fixture in the Gold Cup in San Diego on July 9 will be a tasty one, with Jamaica seeking to avenge this painful defeat.
Prize monies for top four teams at the 2017 Caribbean Cup: 1) Curacao: $40,000.00 2) Jamaica: $30,000.00 3) French Guiana: $25,000.00 4) Martinique: $20,000.00
Post-match quotes below.
The match-winner and tournament MVP, Elson Hooi: “It feels amazing to have scored two goals and win the trophy for Curacao. I am very proud. It is like a dream. I am going to take a nap on the bus now and let it come over me [laughter]. We play as a team in the Caribbean Cup and need to show how good we are in the Gold Cup, starting over from zero.”
Curacao captain Cuco Martina, trophy in hand: “To win something with Curacao is very emotional. I have waited 10 years to win something with the national team. I have been with the team during the tough years when things were not so good. When Patrick Kluivert came, he gave us a good change. We play good football and have good quality. Kluivert and Bicentini are completely different, though. Kluivert built this team. When he left, the players were a little bit worried about who the next coach might be. But Bicentini takes his job very seriously and he has given us good training and advice, as well as confidence.”
Leandro Bacuna, one of the side’s key attacking players: “We started the game good, but afterwards it was a bit sloppy on our side. We did really well to come back after they scored for 1-1. We trusted ourselves and wanted to finish the game before 90 minutes. We have put our name out there now and people are going to look at us differently. We need to perform like this in the Gold Cup.”
Rosario Harriott, the goalscorer for Jamaica: “When I scored, I thought we were back in the game. But we lost concentration and they got the better of us. This is a fairly new Jamaican team. We just need to continue playing together and getting more games together.”
Jerome Waite, assistant coach for the Reggae Boyz: “We started a little bit tentatively and gave Curacao a bit too much respect. A lapse in concentration resulted in their early goal. One of the things that hurt us is that we turned over the ball too often. As a result, we always ended up chasing the game. Second half we looked a little bit better but the opponents still enjoyed more possession. We played them a little higher in the second half to force them to play more long ball. It was heart-rendering to see the team give up the second goal in less than two minutes. At this level, players need to understand that the game continues after a goal is scored. In terms of the Gold Cup, it will be a better unit for Jamaica. Players who did not make this trip will be available. It will be a completely different team.”
Jamaica starting lineup: Miller, Fisher, Lowe, Campbell, Francis, Grandison, Lambert, Gordon, Binns, Johnson, Burke. Manager: Theodore Whitmore (although due to touchline ban, assistant coach Jerome Wait was in charge for this game).
Subs: Harriott – Francis. Morris – Johnson. Nicholson – Burke. Unused: Hyatt, Robinson, Flemmings, Genus, Brown.
Curacao starting lineup: Room, Martina, Jakoba, Lachman, Justiana, Mulder, Bacuna, Nepomuceno, Antonia, Hooi, Janga. Manager: Remko Bicentini.
Subs: Van Kessel – Antonia. Kortstam – Hooi. Unused: Pieter, Sumter, Statie, Maria, Agustien, Bernardus, Zschusschen, Gaari, Carmelia.
Referee: Michel Rodriguez (Cuba). Assistant referee 1: Raidel Toledo (Cuba). Assistant referee 2: Eugene Farro (Aruba). Fourth official: Ricangel De Leca (Aruba). Match commissioner: Dominique Stowe (St Vincent & the Grenadines).
By Nathan Carr
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