BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 8, 2021– The brief moments of football fever, the week in late March when our Belize national football team, the Jaguars played two FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier matches on foreign soil, have long dissipated, as the nation resumed its focus on our economic crisis and the still present threat of Covid-19, which, thankfully, we have managed to keep in check. We pray that there was no major spreading event over the past Easter weekend.
There was some rejoicing, but no major fanfare in Belize when the Jaguars registered a 5-nil win over Turks and Caicos Islands in the most recent Qualifier match on March 30 in the Dominican Republic. It was not like when they had returned home to a motorcade in 2013, after qualifying to our first ever participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That was a major achievement. But not so in this recent Qualifier outing, although we can say we did hold up our heads, considering the setback of a whole year with no competitive football in Belize. In a post-game interview, our superstar, Deon McCaulay did implore our health authorities to give the green light to local football competitions. In Atlanta, where he currently resides, football is continuing, despite the pandemic. But then, they are in the mighty USA, with a stimulus package to try and rebound their economy; we are in little Belize, where there is no stimulus, only tough financial times ahead, and our best hope is to keep Covid “under manners” while we slowly try and crawl out of this economic hole we have dug ourselves in.
While we all celebrated the big 5-nil victory by the Jaguars over Turks and Caicos, those who understand the game and the tournament, know that our big challenge is ahead, against Nicaragua; and by comparison, we are actually at a 2-goal deficit with Nicaragua, who had previously defeated the lower rated Turks and Caicos by a 7-nil score.
There were five teams in Group E, but Saint Lucia, which should have been a home game for Belize, has withdrawn from the Qualifiers. So, with four teams remaining, we each have three games to be played, and we have already played two: a 2-nil loss to Haiti, and a 5-nil win over Turks and Caicos. Our only remaining match is against Nicaragua in Nicaragua on June 4.
The way FIFA/CONCACAF have arranged the groupings, there is one favorite team, Haiti, in our Group E. And with only the winner from each group going forward to Round Two, our loss to Haiti means our chances are extremely slim. In the 35-member CONCACAF, Haiti is ranked #10; Nicaragua is #16; Belize is #23; Saint Lucia is #24; and Turks and Caicos Islands is at #32. Belize vs Saint Lucia would have been considered a good match-up. Belize #23 was expected to beat #32 Turks and Caicos. The fact that we only won 5-nil, while Nicaragua beat them 7-nil, means that we would have to defeat Nicaragua to move above them in the group standings. A Belize draw with Nicaragua would still give them a +2 goal difference above us.
For any chance at clinching first place in our Group E and advance to Round Two, we would have to see Nicaragua defeating Haiti; not impossible. And then we would have to beat Nicaragua, and also prevail above both Haiti and Nicaragua in the final goal difference column, since all three of us would then be tied at 6 points apiece. Of course, nobody is giving Turks and Caicos any chance against Haiti, which could score their needed goals to ensure their number one spot in the goal difference column.
So, that’s where Belize currently stands in relation to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers. Our most realistic hope, a tall task itself, is to defeat Nicaragua and thus secure second place in the group. Haiti, which didn’t employ all their artillery against Belize, won’t be taking any chances with Nicaragua.
Remaining Group E games are (home team listed first): June 4 – Nicaragua vs Belize; June 5 – Turks and Caicos Islands vs Haiti; June 8 – Haiti vs Nicaragua.