BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 30, 2016–When our contingent of Belizean U-17 footballers departed for World Cup 2018 qualifiers in Costa Rica on Tuesday, November 22, their innocent minds were full of dreams, “imagining the possibilities” of success in their first major international outing against the highest level of Central American competition. To those of us who knew better, their dreams were not realistic; but we sent them anyway, and gave them all the encouragement we could to “go deh strong.” We couldn’t lie to them. And there is always a minute measure of chance when eleven meets eleven. So, we stayed positive, and shared our one desire, that they play their hearts out for Belize. And that they did; and we are thankful and proud of their efforts.
The results are another matter. We were not disgraced by hugely lopsided scores; but a loss is still a loss, and we shouldn’t feign heartbreak that there were no big “Ws” for our U-17. Not when we know fully well that we sent our boys to the slaughter. Four losses from four games (4-0 to Costa Rica, 3-1 to Honduras, 2-1 to El Salvador, 2-1 to Nicaragua), and last place in the tournament is the result, which is exactly what we knew was the most likely outcome.
Belize is ranked among the lowest in Central America; so, one would think we needed the most preparation to hold our own in the qualifier competition. Actually, those were respectable results, and something to build on; only because these kids won’t pass this way again. Their U-17 days are over.
All our opponents were either already involved in international tournaments at the U-17 level, or played a series of scheduled U-17 international friendlies in preparation for the 10-day World Cup qualifiers in Costa Rica. They were at their best.
Our Belize U-17 played not a single top-level international friendly before this big tournament; unless we want to count the little exhibition game in Cancun against a Mexican U-17 club team.
Did we even send our best possible selection of players to make up our National U-17? Absolutely not! Even before the team left, this was conceded by head coach Charlie Slusher. For whatever the reasons, his best two midfielders, Zerrick Cabral and Joseph Ramirez, (midfielders are considered the back-bone of any team) were refused leave from school to attend the tournament, so the coaching staff had to make two last minute additions to complete the roster.
But there are still questions even with the process resulting in the final selection of players for the National U-17. To start with, the team is a complete stranger to the Belizean public, who only saw some names listed in FFB releases about players called to tryouts at the FFB training facility on a few weekends. Anyone with experience in sports will tell you that the only way to find out who will “play big” for a team is to expose them to tough competition, preferably in similar conditions to what they will experience in the tournament they are preparing for. There are “big game” players, and there are “practice players.” And there is also a thing called “team chemistry,” which can only be nurtured, fine-tuned and developed over time and a number of outings facing tough opponents. A team cannot be considered “battle ready” if it has not yet faced formidable competition.
Our U-17 team was at a remarkable disadvantage, and doomed to failure even before they left the Jewel. With the innocence and optimism of youth, they did not disgrace the Jewel; and we are proud of their effort. But we are not in the business of praising failure, lest we detract from their future resolve to strive for excellence. Failure will not do; but we will not “bon fire” on our youths.
But we need to “bon fire” on a system, and those in authority who seem okay with the continued process of setting up our youths to fail, and then hypocritically consoling them in defeat, when our negligence and disregard for their preparation is what condemned them to disaster even before they took the field.
Of course, we have talent. Of course, our boys have heart. Of course, we never give up.