BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 15, 2015–For the first time since the stadium was built and hosted international matches, our Belize National “A” Team was victorious at the FFB Stadium, in an important World Cup Qualifier match against the much higher ranked Dominican Republic team, and Belizean fans were ecstatic.
Nothing the Dominican Republicans had seen or heard of Belize, except maybe Deon McCaulay, could have prepared them for what transpired yesterday. Belize got some breaks in game 1 in Santo Domingo, and our acclaimed striker Deon McCaulay was indeed the difference, for our opponents dominated play in midfield as the Belize players strove to find cohesion in transition from defense to attack inside the 3 forward – 3 middle formation they have been battling to master in training sessions since November of last year.
In last Sunday’s training match at the MCC, their performance was disappointing; but coach Jorge Nunez and his assistant Charlie Slusher remained confident that their game strategy would, eventually be mastered by the team. In game 1 in Santo Domingo, our squad seemed to be struggling, but there were some moments when we seemed to be putting our game together. And a little luck, and the artistry of Deon was enough to garner the win.
Yesterday, in front of a crowd of Belizean fans hungry for a win, and confident after the 2-1 victory in Santo Domingo, it seems the pieces finally fell into place for the Belize Jaguars, as from the opening whistle our wingers, Danny Jimenez and Elroy Kuylen, were finding space on the line, although Deon was drawing double-team attention constantly in the middle. But our movement off the ball in transition from attack to defense in the midfield was the difference, as the DR team was unable to penetrate the Belize defense, although their passes in midfield were crisp and well executed. The last quarter of the field on both ends belonged to Belize, and there were a number of early misses before one of Danny’s fine lobs from near the right goal line found Cafu advancing on the left side, and his leaping header was on target, sending Belizean fans into a frenzy, 1-nil, Belize at about the 17th minute of first half. Would we finally win one at home?
The Belize starting line-up was the same as in game 1, except for Woodrow West in goal, replacing the veteran Shane Moody-Orio. It was Elroy Smith and Trevor “Burger” Lennen in the middle of the defense, with Ian “Yellow” Gaynair on the right and Dalton Eiley on the left. In the midfield, there were Andres Makin, Denmark Casey and Harrison “Cafu” Roches; and up front there was Deon McCaulay “over the ball,” with Danny Jimenez on the right and Elroy “Bibbs” Kuylen on the left.
The game was balanced in midfield, with Belize having the edge in possession, as both teams moved the ball from side to side, and strung a number of passes until the play was intercepted or an upfield pass was sent back. But the Belize attacks were more dangerous and troubling to the Dominican Republic defense, who seemed to have no answer to the repeated drives into open spaces on the right wing by Danny, and also occasionally on the left by Bibbs. It was a long lob from sweeper Elroy Smith that saw Kuylen beat the defense to the ball and unleash a left foot rocket before goalkeeper Baez could narrow the angle; 2-nil, Belize at the 38th minute and Belizean fans were really feeling it now.
Cafu was replaced by Jordy Polanco early in 2nd half, and then Andres Makin by Khalil Velasquez, and Evan Mariano for Elroy Kuylen. But the Belize squad continued to confound the more polished and technically sound Dominican Replublic team with our athleticism, football intelligence, and something in the style of play we have been developing that our opponents had no answer for. With a 2-nil score, a goal could put one within 1 goal of tying, so there tends to be hope. But when Khalil Velasquez drove down the left side toward the goal line and lifted a lob across goal to an advancing Deon McCaulay, his header was perfection with an exclamation at the 77th minute, erasing all doubt about any miraculous comeback for the visitors, and unleashing waves of euphoria and jubilation across the bleachers of Belizean fans. It’s been a long time coming, and the rest of the game was a joyous celebration of football, as Belize finally won an international game at home in front of our long suffering fans who, enjoyed every moment of it. It was worth the wait. Belize 3 (aggregate 5); Dominican Republic 0 (aggregate 1); and we’re on, for the first time, to the Third Round of World Cup Qualifiers.