BELIZE CITY–Last week Wednesday, the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) announced the 25-member National U-17 Team which will represent Belize in the upcoming UNCAF U-17 qualifier to be held in Costa Rica from November 4-8.
Internationally, U-17 qualifiers are considered very serious business. That’s because, aside from the fact that these qualifiers lead all the way to the U-17 FIFA World Cup, it is this squad that is expected to become in a few years’ time the base for the National “A” Team, perhaps as early as World Cup 2018, but certainly by World Cup 2022. The National U-17 team, then, should be the culmination of a tough annual selection process that involves no less than a credible national U-16 competition, which has been preceded by regional U-16 tournaments to produce the best players to be showcased in the U-16 national tournament. Competition hones talent and also provides a showcase for fans and scouts alike to determine which players have developed the necessary skills and character attributes to earn a spot on the national U-17 team.
There was a time back in the 1980’s when there had developed a peculiar bias against teams from Belize City. The BNFA and its successor the FFB were led by individuals who, to some extent, fell prey to the lobbying of officials from the other districts who accused them of giving Belize City teams some sort of favored status. Thus, these BNFA and FFB heads were always at pains to show they were not treating Belize City teams as favorites, often times resulting in their giving Belize City unfair treatment to appease their other district members.
Perhaps that sense of bias resulted from the prolonged dominance of Belize City based teams during the 1980’s. Beginning with the first ever countrywide club competition in the post-Independence era, the 1981-82 tournament consisted of nineteen(19) 1st Division clubs drawn from all over the country in the first ever BNFA National Club Competition.
Belikin from Belize City won that tournament, and Milpros from Belize City was second. Thereafter, while the competition was restricted to only the champion club from each district, Belize City was afforded the entry of both their champion and sub-champion clubs. And from 1986 till the end of the decade, a Belize City team was either national champ or sub-champ, taking the top two spots in 1988 (Duurly’s 1st and Milpros 2nd). Perhaps that was the cause of the perceived bias in favor of Belize City; but was it justified? After all, Belize City has for long been the population center and commercial capital of the country, and it figures that the large pool of players and strong sponsors will often produce more strong teams than the other districts.
Well, in recent years, Belize City football has fallen on some hard times. For the last couple years, there has not been a credible 1st Division competition or Belize District youth competitions for U-15, U-17 and U-19 in Belize City due to a non-functional Belize District Football Association. Nevertheless, there are players of all ages and many with talent in Belize City, and if a national youth tournament were called tomorrow, Belize City would field a team or two if allowed to do so. That is because there have been a number of private tournaments, some with age restrictions, such as the Smart 13 & Under, “Clear the Land” Cup, Ladyville and Hattieville tournaments, CYDP Peace Cup, various weekend marathons, etc.
But the FFB seems not too much bothered about the situation in Belize City. A national U-17 team has been selected, and there is no Belize City based player on the roster; not even one.
The players called to the National U-17 are undoubtedly some good youngsters. Of course, we haven’t seen any of them play recently, because there has been no national U-17 competition from which we could have made an assessment.
Regardless of how good this National U-17 is, common sense tells us it could have been better with access to some of the talent resident in Belize City.
The FFB heads are apparently content with putting together a team to fulfill our obligations to participate in the UNCAF and CONCACAF qualifiers. Money is always a problem. But, with scarce resources, why have they persisted two years running in sponsoring an “Open” national competition (FFB President’s Cup), when we already have the PLB tournament? We could have instead seen a U-16 FFB President’s Cup, and they would be better prepared to form the National U-17 now. At this time, we can’t realistically expect to go much further, as in qualifying to the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Of course, that is a mighty tall order; but at least we should be putting our best foot forward, and obviously, we are not doing that again.
Belizean fans might be misled to thinking that our youths can cope, like our National “A” Team managed in the UNCAF Central American Cup recently. But they benefited from being seasoned semi-pro players, former national team players, made from the base of the national champions Belmopan Bandits, and coached by highly respected Costa Rican Leroy Sherrier Lewis, whose record with Belize teams is unmatched. This Belize National U-17 is a team in the making, with no international Friendlies under their belt. And they are just over a month away from competition against the best of Central America.
(Ed. Note: Fans could be mistaken to entertain high hopes based on the impressive showing of our National U-15 in last year’s inaugural CONCACAF U-15 in Cayman Islands, where Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua declined participation. That squad benefited from the YWAM and Belmopan youth programs, but they are just U-16 now, and a year makes a big difference in the competition they will face.)