The party is over in Benque, FC Belize vs Belmopan Bandits in PLB Finals
Bmp Bandits 1:1 BDF; FC Belize 2:1 Verdes in overtime
All indications pointed to another Verdes victory in the re-scheduled football game after a wet-field postponement at the Marshalleck Stadium, when the Saturday night match against FC Belize from Belize City was re-scheduled to Sunday at the same venue. But Verdes fans were out for a shocking disappointment, for FC Belize left Benque Viejo last night with a 2-1 overtime victory and a spot in the PLB finals.
The Police United team had suffered the same difficulty in regular season, and the excessive travelling on short notice took its toll on their players, leaving a bitter Police management to sulk in the off-season after they failed to gain the victory they needed to make the playoffs. It was a 1-1 draw against Verdes at the Marshalleck, but that wasn’t enough for Police, who must now look to next season.
It was looking like a replay of the same script over this past weekend, as once again the travelling team, this time FC Belize, had to deal with a postponed match, due to very wet field conditions, after they had travelled all the way from Belize City to Benque Viejo, approximately 81 miles sitting in a regular “school” bus, for their scheduled Saturday night semifinal against Verdes FC.
Predictably, the FC Belize management was very unhappy with the late announcement of the postponement, after they had travelled that long journey. And they were also unhappy with the decision to utilize the same venue, which would not improve much in a day. But the Verdes management was convinced they could work on the field to make it playable, and what was being the #1 seed for, if not to get to play in front of your home fans?
The League had insisted it needed to start the finals this coming weekend, to try and meet the time line for the CONCACAF Champions League after the PLB Closing Season. #4 seed FC Belize preferred a Wednesday date, to give the field time to properly dry; but PLB President Myito Perdomo said on Krem’s Press Show on Sunday morning that Wednesday is a bad business day for football in Benque. So, Sunday it was to be; and the only consolation for FC Belize was Myito’s promise that the League would assist with their expenses due to the postponement.
#1 seed Verdes had not lost a game on their home turf all season long. But now it was the playoffs, and the surging #4 seed FC Belize, with whom they drew 0-0 at the MCC Grounds in game 1 of the semifinals the previous week, had proven they were an even match-up with the more seasoned Verdes team.
It has been a season like no other, and that is why being #4 seed really meant nothing where the outcome of yesterday’s game was considered. Verdes had home field advantage, but the brash youths on FC Belize had proven they were not intimidated or in awe of the accomplished Verdes stars – Norman “Tilliman” Nunez, the Jimenez brothers – Leechy and Cheety, Shamir Pacheco and National Team player Evral Trapp. That the game ended up a draw in regulation was hardly a surprise. Verdes had drawn their last 3 regular season outings – 2-2 against San Ignacio United, 1-1 with Police, and 0-0 with Belmopan Bandits – and they drew their first semifinal 0-0 with FC Belize. But game 2 of the semifinals was for “all the marbles,” and it had to go to overtime.
To start with, it must be said that yesterday’s pitch at the Marshalleck Stadium was one of the worst we have seen a game played on, and it was also a nightmare for fans and game officials, who had to traffic through 4-6 inches of mud to reach the playing area, where the sidelines were also a mud pile. Some selected areas had been filled with new material to help the officials to move around, but all footwear were nevertheless submerged in the muddy mess.
For the players, it was a struggle to keep their footing and to dribble the ball for any distance, before the ball got stuck in the mud. It led to a “big kick” game in many instances, and the advantage went to the stronger legs down the stretch, where, in our view, FC Belize had the edge in the later minutes of the game with powerful young midfielder Jorge Alexman and forward Michael Hernandez.
Verdes got the go ahead goal early in first half off a penalty conversion by captain Shamir Pacheco (14’), after ball wizard Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton had been taken down by FC Belize defender Mark Grant. And after a hard fought battle on both sides, FC Belize got their opportunity from the penalty spot late in second half, when Verdes goalkeeper Benito Moreira aggressively tackled FC Belize forward Steven “Breds” Baizer from behind inside the box; and, after a 6-minute long delay while Verdes players contested referee Victor Williams’ decision to award the penalty, FC Belize leading striker Jarret Davis calmly drove a low grounder into the left corner at the 87th minute; 1-1 ball game. It was further downhill for an emotionally distraught Verdes team and fans a few minutes later when referee Williams also ejected Verdes defender San Leobardo Mendez after a very hard tackle just over a minute before the long whistle to end regulation.
Frustration was building inside the Verdes camp, and it neared boiling point 11 minutes into the first half of overtime when a hard FC Belize tackle resulted in a yellow card from referee Williams, and Verdes players thought it should have merited a red. There were many near misses on both sides, but at 11 minutes into the second half of over time, FC Belize’s Jorge Aleman freed himself from two defenders on the left side, and sent a right foot center toward the Verdes goal; Verdes sweeper David Cruz headed out, but the ball bounced toward an oncoming Michael Hernandez of FC Belize just outside the penalty area. Hernandez used the flat inside of his right foot to immediately drive the ball into the upper left side of the Verdes goal (officially at 29’ of overtime), past the reaching finger tips of goalkeeper Moreira. Goaaalll!! FC Belize.
It was jubilation for FC Belize players and fans, who were strong in attendance on one of the bleachers. But it was frustration and despair for Verdes, which soon spilled over into anger and uncontrolled rage. Referee Victor Williams tried to resume play after a long delay, but, sensing the end was near, some Verdes players were soon approaching him and venting their feelings for his handling of the match. Some fans soon got out of hand, and Police quickly took to the field to protect referee Williams and his linesmen. After some time, while FC Belize players congregated in the south-western corner of the field to keep away from the melee, referee Williams decided to blow the long whistle and await the appropriate opportunity for his safe escort from the pitch.
As disappointing as the outcome was, the actions of some Verdes players will probably draw stern penalties from the League. We saw when the bus carrying the victorious FC Belize team was stoned by some angry Verdes fans; and reports are that FC Belize coaching assistant Anthony “Willie Bo” Bernard had to be taken to the San Ignacio hospital where he received a dozen stitches to his head from injuries suffered when a rock broke the back glass of the bus the team was traveling in.
With the victory, FC Belize is now through to the finals, where they will face the Belmopan Bandits, who came away from Dangriga on Saturday night with a 1-1 draw against Belize Defence Force, after the Bandits had won 3-0 the previous week. The Bandits had taken the 1-nil lead on a Deon McCaulay goal at the 41st minute; and BDF only managed to get the equalizer in injury time from Shane “Chucky” Flores (90+’).
Game 1 of the home-and-away Finals schedule:
Sunday, February 2
4:00 p.m. – FC Belize vs Belmopan Bandits – MCC Grounds