BELIZE CITY, Wed. Oct. 17, 2018– In all our years of struggle in CONCACAF play and World Cup qualifiers, there was always one consolation for Belize, and that was our dominance over a few teams on the lower end of CONCACAF and FIFA ranking. So that we posted convincing wins over St. Kitts and Nevis in the last World Cup qualifiers, and likewise against Montserrat, where Deon McCaulay had a hat trick in 2011. Belize even reached the 2013 Gold Cup. And, with rejuvenated FIFA funding for development, after a turbulent election process was finally settled in December of 2017 with a new FFB Executive headed by Sergio Chuc, things seemed on the upswing for Belize football, evidenced by the country-wide U-15 and U-17 male and female tournaments, and our national youth and senior “A” teams participating in a number of regional tournaments.
Recently on September 7, in our first of a 4-game qualifier series in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League (CNL), Belize posted an impressive 4-0 win over Bahamas; and a similar or even more one-sided score was anticipated against lower-ranked Montserrat in our second CNL qualifier this past Sunday. But what instead transpired was a shocking 1-nil Montserrat victory, and major questions being raised concerning the preparation and coaching strategy of the Belize team. What went wrong?
For sure, respect must be given to little Montserrat, who played BIG with a full cast of foreign based players, and came up with what has to be the most spectacular goal so far in the tournament. And there were early warning signs from their competitive 2-1 loss to El Salvador in Matchday One. In Sunday’s game, Woodrow West was outstanding in goal, but that shot by Montserrat’s Spencer Weir was unstoppable.
Belize fielded mostly veterans in Sunday’s game, keeping most of our promising young players on the bench. Head Coach Palmiro Salas did not travel with the team, leaving the task to assistant coaches Dale Pelayo and Peter Jones. Our playing line-up included: goalkeeper, Woodrow West; and players, Victor Mejia, Dalton Eiley, Elroy Smith, Michael Atkinson (Andres Makin, Jr. at 66’), Evral Trapp, Nana Mensah, Elroy Kuylen, Daniel Jimenez (Trimayne Harris at 81’), Jarret Davis (Krisean Lopez at 71’), and Deon McCaulay. Not activated on the team bench were goalkeeper Shane Orio and young players Jonard Castillo, Norman Anderson and Nahjib Guerra (reportedly injured).
Montserrat’s goal came at the 74th minute. Referee was Mexican Edgar Rangel Araujo.
Gold Cup dreams
In the newly launched Concacaf Nations League qualifiers, 34 teams are competing for 10 remaining spots in the upcoming 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be staged in 10 states of the USA. Six (6) teams have already secured their Gold Cup berths, by virtue of their being members of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Hexagonal qualifiers. Those 6 are Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States. (Guatemala, the other member of the 41-nation strong CONCACAF, was only reinstated as a member of FIFA on June 1, 2018, not in time to participate in this inaugural Nations League tournament.)
So, of the 6 eligible Central American nations in the quest of the 2019 Gold Cup, 3 have already secured a berth – Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, and are therefore not among the 34 nations battling in these CNL qualifiers for the remaining 10 spots in the Gold Cup.
The 3 remaining C.A. nations are El Salvador, Nicaragua and Belize. Things started brightly for all three; but now, Belize has taken a major stumble, and qualification to the top 10 now seems daunting.
El Salvador only managed a 2-1 win over Montserrat, and that should have raised eyebrows in Belize – Montserrat is making strides. El Salvador then shut out Barbados, 3-0; so their record now stands at 2W-OD-OL with a +4 goal difference and 6 points.
Meanwhile, Nicaragua opened with a 2-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, followed by a 6-0 victory over Anguilla, to bring their record to 2W-OD-OL and a +8 goal difference and 6 points.
Belize jumped out with a 4-0 win over Bahamas, but our 1-0 loss to Montserrat now puts our record at a concerning 1W-OD-1L with a +3 goal difference and only 3 points.
Previously at #8 in the 34 team standings, Belize has now fallen way down to #18 on the list.
If the qualifiers were ended today, the 10 newly qualifying teams to the 16-team Gold Cup would be #1 Curacao, #2 Haiti, #3 Canada, #4 Cuba, #5 St. Kitts & Nevis, #6 Jamaica, #7 Dominican Republic, #8 Nicaragua, #9 Martinique, and #10 El Salvador.
The pecking order continues with #11 Guyana, #12 Suriname, #13 Guadeloupe, #14 Aruba, #15 Bermuda, #16 French Guiana, #17 Antigua & Barbuda, #18 Belize, #19 Saint Lucia, #20 Montserrat, #21 Saint Vincent, #22 Barbados, #23 Dominica, #24 Puerto Rico, #25 Cayman Islands, #26 British Virgin Islands, #27 Bahamas, #28 Bonaire, #29 Anguilla, #30 Grenada, #31 Saint Martin, #32 Virgin Islands, #33 Turks & Caicos Islands, and #34 St. Maarten.
There is still hope. In Belize we deal with adversity by saying, “every disappointment da fi di betta.” Our younger players will probably see more action now. Belize hosts Puerto Rico on November 16.