BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 18, 2015–Crime is down 30%, so said Minister of Police, BDF and owner of the Belmopan Bandits football club, Hon. John Saldivar; and his words may have been prophetic in a way, for the 3-peat reign of his Belmopan Bandits came to a screeching halt yesterday afternoon at a packed Norman Broaster Stadium in San Ignacio, home of the legendary Mighty Avengers, whose surviving stars were on hand to issue trophies and awards after the Green Machine pulled off a spectacular 2-nil victory to bring the curtain down, on the three seasons, long reign of the Belmopan Bandits. The Bandits had taken game 1 by a 1-nil margin a week earlier at the FFB Stadium, so the 2-nil win gave Verdes the aggregate 2-1 edge, and the national championship. Just as importantly, the victory sends Verdes FC to the CONCACAF Champions League 2015 tournament later this year. The Bandits, then back-to-back champions, had qualified to the Champions League in 2014, but the FFB Stadium failed the CONCACAF inspection, and the Bandits lost the opportunity to represent the Jewel, their spot taken by Club Sport Herediano of Costa Rica.
The Bandits came into San Ignacio yesterday, sporting a one goal lead in the best of two games series, and they had between the uprights no less than Belize’s best goalkeeper, Woodrow West, on whom only the best attempt from the Verdes offence could hope to find the back of the net.
The Bandits had more threats at goal, with speedsters Edmund Pandy Jr., and African Jehoshaphat Nnadi causing major problems for the Verdes defence. But it was at the other end, the northern goal, that the net shook about half hour into first half, when a cross goal center from left wing Nahjib Guerra travelled all the way to the far corner of the six-yard box, and Verdes’ tall Brazilian import Alcides Thomas out jumped his defense marker and placed a precision header that hooked up in the right pigeon hole past the outstretched finger tips of a diving Woodrow West; 1-nil, Verdes, at the 31st minute, and the Verdes horns were blowing.
The Norman Broaster turf was disappointingly dry and dusty, with the grass worn out in many areas, evidence of an overworked grass field, a far cry from the beautiful green we had become accustomed to in times past; and it affected the quality of ground play on a number of occasions.
Two notable veterans, one from each side, were missing from yesterday’s critical championship game: national team defender Ian “Yellow” Gaynair of the Bandits was serving a one game suspension due to accumulated yellow cards; and Verdes’ Orlando “Leechi” Jimenez was under discipline from his own team management.
When they brought in midfielder Jordy Polanco to start the second half, the Bandits began stringing more passes together in their attack, but the Verdes defense was up to the task. And the Verdes’ hopes were raised when midway through the half, they brought in Gilroy “Bredda” Thurton, his sore ankle taped personally by assistant coach Marvin Ottley before he joined the Verdes attack.
It looked like overtime would be needed when a Verdes player was fouled near the eastern sideline about half-way inside Bandits’ territory. Captain Shamir Pacheco set up for the lob even as game fourth official Irfan Basdemir prepared to raise the two-minute extra time sign. The lob was high into the Bandits eighteen, and Jarret Davis (90+’) was airborne before any Bandits defender, and he turned his head to redirect the ball high toward the right “pigeon hole.” Goalkeeper West was scrambling to reach it, as the ball glanced under the cross bar and caromed to the ground and then into the net, as the Verdes fans exploded in jubilation! 2-nil and 2 minutes away from the championship!
But the Bandits are known for many a last minute strike, so it wasn’t over yet. Every second counted. Then, inexplicably, Bandits midfielder Edmund Pandy Jr., who was apparently injured in a tackle while his team mounted an attack in the Verdes half, remained on the ground with no attempt to get back on his feet. He stayed on the ground inside the field of play, forcing referee Christopher Reid to suspend the action as the team physiotherapist ran to his aid. And the Bandits’ time ran out. Before play could resume, the referee blew the long whistle, and the Verdes celebration truly began. Verdes FC, PLB Closing Season 2014-2015 Champions!