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    Articles related to CONCACAF 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Preview Feb 18, 2004
    Update Mar 4, 2004
    Wrap-up Apr 12, 2004
    Preview May 30, 2004 Wrap-up Jul 2, 2004 Preview Aug 9, 2004 Update Sep 20, 2004 Update Oct 26, 2004 Wrap-up Nov 30, 2004 Preview Feb 2, 2005 Update Feb 26, 2005 Update Apr 8, 2005 Update Jun 8, 2005 Update Aug 22, 2005 Update Sep 14, 2005 Wrap-up Oct 19, 2005 Preview Oct 29, 2005 Wrap-up Nov 19, 2005



    Update: CONCACAF qualifiers, Round 1

    by Peter Goldstein

        A few weeks ago, we posted a preview article on the CONCACAF qualifiers, so if you weren't already enthralled by Aruba and Anguilla, St. Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis, Bermuda and Bahamas, we know you are now. And that's why you're here: to find out more about your latest football obsession. One of the first-round ties (Haiti-Turks & Caicos Islands) is finished; seven more have completed their first leg. So let's feed our Caribbean fancies.

        BUT FIRST, IMPORTANT NEWS, on a Planet World Cup exclusive! As noted, Haiti-Turks & Caicos Islands is over. But Planet World Cup is in contact with Chris Gannon, starting midfielder for TCI, and right here on this site you'll get the full story of the island part-timers, ranked 203rd in the world, and their trip to the USA to face Haiti. It's pretty remarkable stuff, and it should be up on the site later in March. Don't miss it!

    And now to the games, in the same order as in the preview:


        Aruban officials were probably pretty happy with the first-round draw. True, Surinam was out of their class, but so were most of the other potential opponents. More important was the Dutch connection, which looked like a natural motivation for the team and a good draw for the fans. And so it proved--but my guess is they didn't figure on Aruba-based Surinamese buying up most of the tickets, resulting in a packed 2000-seat stadium cheering madly for the visiting team. (Hey, guys, I'm from the USA, we feel your pain.) At least their money was the same.

        On the field, Aruba went with an intriguing combination of past and future. They went all the way back to the 1998 qualifying squad for a couple of players, including the marvelously named keeper Geoland Pantophlet. They also brought in some new names from the lower divisions in Holland, the most important of which was striker and captain Maurice Escalona. As for Surinam, they took advantage of their domestic league, one of the strongest in the region, and opted for a fully home-based squad.

        Despite the apparent mismatch and the hostile fans, the game turned out to be a corker. Aruba took the game to the favorites from the beginning, with Escalona a particular headache. Surinam keeper Harold Blokland was tested several times, and only a couple of acrobatic saves kept the sheet clean. At the other end of the field, Surinam hit the woodwork once and had a goal disallowed for offside. Nil-nil at the interval was small reward for all the chances, but certainly no more than Aruba deserved.

        In the second half, though, class told. The defense got Escalona under control, and a 54th minute penalty drawn by striker Carlos Loswijk put the visitors up-0. That must have been some penalty kick: the Surinamese fans were in such a frenzy that they forgot their native language, shouting "We want more! We want more!" over and over. (True!) And they got more, when striker Patrick "Patta" Zinhagel entered the game. Notoriously temperamental, Zinhagel was under suspension from his club Transvaal, and had been a controversial choice for the team. But he was the dominant figure in the second half, spearheading the attack and scoring the second Surinamese goal. Still, Aruba never gave up, and were rewarded with a late score from Escalona, to make the final tally a very respectable 1:2.

        Aruba is unlikely to turn things around in the second leg, although word has it they're searching for 2000 Surinamese-based Arubans to shout "Goooooooooooool" in Chinese. As for Zinhagel, he's rumored to be on the way to a new club, Robinhood (insert your own joke here). The most important remaining question: will Guatemala's suspension be upheld? If so, the winner will go straight to the semifinal round. If not, someone will have to learn Spanish.


        For a team ranked almost 30 places below their opponents, and playing on the road to boot, Guyana came into this game with remarkable confidence. A few weeks before, they had traveled to Barbados and pulled a huge upset: urged on by about 1500 expatriate Guyanese, they had skunked the home team 2-0. Moreover, the squad had added several promising members of the U-23's, who had themselves upset Barbados in the Olympic qualifiers. Meanwhile, Grenada had been struggling to find their form, dropping a pair of games to Barbados, 0-2 on the road and 0-1 at home. (Don't they have anyone else to play down there?) Quotes from the Guyana party made it clear that they felt they could get a result in the opener.

        The first sign something was wrong came when they landed in St. George. They had been told a Grenadian FA representative would meet them, but no one showed up. Then, after the team passed through customs, officials confiscated the passport of their Brazilian coach, Neider Dos Santos, and didn't give it back for five hours. You see, he didn't have a visa, and he wasn't a Caribbean national, so he was in violation of immigration laws. Dos Santos claimed he had a letter allowing him to enter, but the authorities didn't see it that way. The Brazilian was livid, and even implied there was some sort of conspiracy to upset his team. (Calm down, Neider. This isn't Argentina.)

        Come game time, there was more bad news. This wasn't the same Grenadian team that had lost twice to Barbados: they had called in most of the boys from overseas, including players from USA, England, and even Hungary, and were a much stronger squad. And once the whistle blew, their class was clear. Grenada had most of the play from the start, with the professionals particularly impressive. The man of the match was Ricky Charles, a college star in the USA, soon to play in the American second division. He didn't get on the scoresheet himself, but he hit the crossbar early, drove the shot that rebounded for the team's first goal, and generally terrorized the Guyanese defense all night. By the end of the first half, Grenada was up 2-0 and looking for more.

        Guyana came out strongly in the second half, and for a while it looked as if they could hold on, and maybe even cut the deficit. But as they pressed for a crucial away goal, it all fell apart. With the back line pushed well up, a through ball sent Charles in alone behind the defense. The Grenadian radio announcers thought he was offside, but the flag stayed down, and keeper Marlon Hendricks, left to his own devices, came all the way out of the area and took Charles down. No goal, no penalty, but a red card, and Guyana were down to 10 men and a second-string keeper. With little chance of scoring, Guyana went into the bunker, and a rampant Grenada finished them off with three goals in the final 15 minutes. Dos Santos, who by that time must have looked a lot older than his passport picture, summed it up with un-Brazilian terseness: "Things did not go in our favor." Don't tell him Grenada didn't even have their best player, striker Jason Roberts, who had stayed in England to help Wigan in their EPL promotion drive.

        With the tie just about killed off, the only question is who will play for Grenada in the second leg. Roberts aside, there are still a few English pros who didn't fly in for the first game, and the coaching staff might want a look at them as well. The fans are already getting excited for the big second-round tie against the USA. If you want to get in on the enthusiasm, just go to , click on the "Football Song" link, and get ready for a wild ride. And e-mail me when you figure out all the words!

    United States Virgin Islands-St. Kitts & Nevis

        Amateurs against professionals, a mismatch from the start, and everyone knew it. The USVI's problems were complicated by the fact that half the players lived on St. Croix, and half on St. Thomas; unlike St. Kitts & Nevis, they didn't have the organization and funding to keep everyone together. In fact, the match was only the third time the team had been completely assembled. Even the locals didn't recognize them: the Virgin Islands Daily News ("A Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper") referred to the USVI squad as the "under-23 men's national soccer team." Hey, maybe they were!

        Not much to say about the game itself. St. Kitts & Nevis missed several good chances during the first half, and to their credit USVI were only down 0-1 at the interval. But in the second half the lack of conditioning told on USVI's endurance, and the Sugar Boyz put them away with 3 goals in a 14-minute span. USVI coach Francisco Ramirez, who had obviously been somewhere else at the time, commented: "It was a wonderful match, and we performed very well with the conditions we were given." (In an earlier article he was listed as William Ramirez, showing that he understands how to coach under an assumed name.)

        St. Kitts & Nevis will coast in the second leg; perhaps they'll allow some of the scrubs some action. Meantime, USVI will check to see if they've really brought the U-23's. What else can we say? Well, let's do some nicknames. The official scoresheet credits the goals to some guys named Huggins, Isaac, and Lake, but show some respect: that's Austin "Dico" Huggins, George "Yellowman" Isaac, and Ian "Rumpie" Lake. As the American comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre used to say: More Sugar!

    British Virgin Islands-St. Lucia

        In our preview we speculated BVI might be a cut above USVI, and that they were indeed. BVI put on a spirited performance in their 0-1 loss to St. Lucia--so much so that their Jamaican coach, Michael Tulloch, thought they deserved to win. Of course, St. Lucia coach Kingsley Armstrong thought his side should have won by more--isn't it always the case?

        On the scoreboard, the difference was a 54th minute goal by Titus Elva, and that pretty much sums up the difference in the squads. Elva is a professional, who plays for W Connection in Trinidad, and St. Lucia was able to call on several overseas players for the contest. BVI was limited to their home amateurs--which of course made their stout resistance more impressive.

        In fact, the disparity between BVI and USVI shows how much training camp matters at this level. Tiny countries with amateur footballers play their internationals at wide intervals; often a couple of years can go by without a game. So getting your players into camp and having them train together can make the difference between a close game and a rout. BVI were able to keep players together more consistently and for longer periods; they even took a trip to St. Martin for a pair of friendlies. And it showed, particularly in conditioning: accounts indicate that while USVI tired badly in the second half, BVI actually got stronger, and after Elva's goal really took the game to St. Lucia. They also were able to take a physical approach, which resulted in 4 yellow cards, but kept St. Lucia off balance for much of the night.

        But it certainly could have been worse for BVI. Valencius Joseph, another of St. Lucia's Trinidadian contingent, had a penalty saved in the 42nd minute, and the visitors missed three or four other good chances. Coach Armstrong was very upset with his strikers, and felt the team as a whole had underestimated the opponent. He also said the return leg in St. Lucia would be a different story.

        And that seems likely to be true. When the two teams met in Gold Cup qualifiers a few years back, BVI lost by a respectable 1-3 in the home leg, but back in St. Lucia the score was 0-9. Tulloch seems to have BVI performing well, and a major rout is unlikely, but it would still be a shock if they turned the tie around. On the other hand, maybe St. Lucia isn't as strong as we had expected. They lost both their warmup friendlies, to Guadeloupe (away) and St. Vincent & the Grenadines (home). And when you're big favorites, and you're up only 1-0, you can get nervous. An early goal from BVI, and who knows?

    Cayman Islands-Cuba

        As you read my brilliant, comprehensive coverage of CONCACAF football, no doubt you wonder how I can amass all this information. Am I a super-wealthy globetrotter, who zooms around on a private plane to all the games? Do I have close connections at the highest levels of the federations? Do I have long distance X-ray vision?

        Well, no. In fact, as you've probably guessed, I just sit at my desk and surf the Net. I get almost all my information from other websites, and am heavily dependent on local newspapers from the small countries. Which made following this particular series all the more frustrating, since no one seemed interested. For a month I spent every day reading the online Caymans newspaper--can you imagine how many ads for beachfront condos that makes?--and it wasn't until the day before the game that an article appeared. There wasn't much more from Cuba. After the game, I eagerly went to the best Cuban site for details on the action--nothing. Only a short piece about the team, and the result. Didn't they care about what happened? As for Caymans, their biggest game in years, played at home--and nothing there either!

        Which is too bad, because it turned out to be quite a contest. Against the Cuban pros, the Cayman part-timers were at a big disadvantage. But Marcos Aurelio Tinoco, their Brazilian coach, had put together a consistent regimen: training five evenings a week, plus Wednesday and Sunday mornings, with particular emphasis on conditioning. (See above, BVI vs. USVI.) And the team performed superbly: although Cuba had the majority of possession and played the more stylish football, Caymans showed spirit and endurance, and actually had more chances to score.

        But somehow it seems as if the better teams always get the breaks. In the 53rd minute, a Cayman defender sent a backpass to his keeper--except the keeper didn't know anything about it. The ball caromed off the post, and Cuban striker Lester Moré tapped it home for the 1-0 lead.

        Outmanned and down a goal, it would have been easy to fold up. But Caymans were undaunted: they took over the action, created several good chances, and were rewarded when Thomas Elliot got the equalizer on a corner in the 72nd minute. At that point any result was possible. But then the inevitable: only one minute from time, striker Luis Martén headed home a cross to give Cuba the 2-1 win. It's hard to be a football fan.

        Cuba is notoriously inconsistent, and they may have underestimated Caymans in the opening leg. But with a 2-1 road win they seem safely home in the tie, and although the islanders won't go down easy, even an ordinary Cuban effort should be enough to get them into the next round. The local websites may even find the game worthy of coverage.

        But I'm sure you're left with a question--with no news of the game in Cuba or Caymans, and only the scoreline on the wire services, how the heck did I get all the details? Well, several days later, they turned up on the Cayman site, but I had them already--from Costa Rica, of course! The winner of the series plays the ticos; Steve Sampson, Costa Rican coach, was at the game scouting, and sent a report back to the papers for me, you, and the rest of the world to see. I Love The Web!


        For Bermuda the most interesting pre-game news was not who would play, but who wouldn't. First there was the story of Raymond Beach and Heys Wolfe, red-hot strikers for the local Devonshire Cougars, who many felt deserved spots in the side. But last December they hadn't turned up to train for a game against Barbados, and coach Kenny Thompson was adamant that they suffer the consequences. Besides, to include them now would upset team chemistry: Bermuda had recently looked good in a loss and a draw against Trindad & Tobago, and were reaching peak form.

        Even more dramatic was the news regarding Bermuda's one true star, veteran striker Shaun Goater of Reading. Goater is the football talisman of Bermuda: every week the papers keep you up to date on his exploits, and Goater himself gets a regular tell-all column in the Royal Gazette. When the games were scheduled, Goater regretfully declined to play, because he needed to solidify his spot on the club. Then, about a week before the match, he shocked everyone with the announcement he was ready to fly in. Much rejoicing in Bermuda--until Reading refused to release him. Since the game wasn't scheduled for a designated FIFA calendar spot, he had to stay in England.

        Not that it figured to matter against Montserrat. Montserrat, remember, is the bottom-ranked team in the world, the country now two-thirds empty as the result of a volcano. But give them credit for a novel preparation strategy: no international friendlies whatsoever. Why? Because, as assistant coach Ottley Laborde pointed out, if they lost, they might be demoralized. Instead the team had a couple of scrimmages against local sides, and in one game racked up no less than 10 confidence-building goals. (Character test: you're playing the bottom ranked team in the world, and you let in 10 goals. What do you tell the wife and kids when you get home?)

        Unfortunately, they still had to play the game against Bermuda. The atmosphere at the National Stadium was, by all accounts, pretty intimidating. Among the dignitaries, the Minister of Sport was spotted waving a banner and a tomahawk. And we reprint here verbatim a notice from the Bermuda Sun of 27 February:

        Spectators to Sunday's match are asked to use the following chants to cheer on the Bermuda team.

        When the Montserrat goalkeeper prepares to take a goal kick, from the time he puts the ball on the ground, to the end of his run up shout "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" As he kicks the ball shout "Bermuda!"

        When the Bermuda goalkeeper prepares to take a goal kick, start clapping. As he kicks, shout "Bermuda!" while pumping your fist in the air.

        Every time a Bermuda player passes the ball, shout "Olé!" until the Montserrat team gets the ball. The Bermuda players represent the Matadors and the Montserrat players are the bulls trying to get the red cloth--the ball.

        When the Bermuda players are in possession of the ball, sing "Here we go, Bermuda, here we go!" When Montserrat has the ball, sing "Let's go, Bermuda, let's go!"

    I'm not sure any comment is possible, but at least there were no volcano jokes.

        And then the game itself. Montserrat had brought in three players from England (including the unfortunately named Wayne Dyer of Hinckley United, scorer of the one and only goal in Montserrat's World Cup history), but they might as well have been from Greenland. Bermuda hit double figures in the first hour, and finished with a baker's dozen. Damon Ming put three in his vase, J. B. Nusum scotched three of his own, Ralph Bean used his head for two, Meschach Wade sent one through the fiery furnace, Khano Smith satisfied his wrath, Rohaan Simons joined the war against Sauron, Shannon Burgess cast a vote for local development, and Otis Steede tore himself away from Emma Peel long enough to put another notch in his cane. If I were you, I'd wait a bit to ask coach Laborde about the team's confidence level.

        It's a shame Montserrat had to play the first leg on the road. They're justifiably proud to have a home game of their own, and it might have had a bit more meaning if they weren't down 0:13 at kickoff. But if my team were literally rising from the ashes, I'd sure as heck want to be there. Let's watch the attendance figures closely: according to current estimates, there are about 4500 people on the island. Here's hoping for at least half that, as a reaffirmation of Montserrat's place in the football community.

    Antigua & Barbuda – Netherlands Antilles

        Anticipation for this matchup was momentarily deflected when, a couple of days before the game, Antiguan prime minister Lester Bird dissolved Parliament and called for new elections. The wire service article noted: "Though plagued by a sex scandal and rumors of corruption, the prime minister has never been charged with a crime." Well, that's a relief.

        The Antiguan team had more important things to worry about, like finding a place to sleep. You see, with all their recent financial troubles, the FA had left outstanding bills at every hotel on the island. No one would take them without money up front. (Not to mention that a week earlier 27 players had signed a letter of protest complaining they hadn't been paid, and that the promised team doctor hadn't shown up.)

        It's not clear where the team spent the night before the game (I suspect we don't really want to know), but it must have been the right place. In a matchup that figured to be close, Antigua & Barbuda dominated, winning 2-0, with goals from Winston "Sprocket" Roberts and Quentin "Squashman" Clarke. In fact, the Antiguans missed several chances to run up the score, notably by Schyan "Skem-up" Jeffers and Kerry "Arab" Skepple (no, I'm not making these up), and might rue their wastefulness in the return leg.

        As for Netherlands Antilles, they had come in confident: they had beaten Surinam in a recent friendly, and were stocked with players from the Dutch first and second divisions. Fans in online forums were already looking forward to the second-round matchup against Honduras. But the Antillean pressure game was no match for the Antiguan speed, particularly on the flanks, and in the end they were lucky to get out only two goals down.

        Antigua was very happy with the result, but the tie is by no means over. The teams are still at least theoretically even, and there's no reason the more experienced professionals can't reverse the score in the return leg. But let's give the Antiguans the advantage, especially since they haven't yet ruined their credit at Antillean hotels. This assessment courtesy of Peter "Big Sexy" Goldstein.

    Haiti-Turks & Caicos Islands

        How could you resist this story? On the one hand, a rising team, a team with ambitions, but a team from the poorest and most violent country in the Western Hemisphere--a country collapsing even as the players lined up for the national anthem. On the other hand, a team from a place maybe one in ten million had heard of, a peaceful island group under the protection of a European colonial power--but a country so far down the football ladder that it had to advertise on its website for players for the national team. A World Cup qualifier at a neutral site, because you couldn't play in one country for fear of getting killed, or in the other because they didn't have a stadium. Bitter political tragedy, uproarious football comedy. Haiti vs. Turks & Caicos Islands. How could you resist it?

        Before the first game the main question was whether TCI could keep the score in single digits. That they did, but apparently more by luck than anything else. The Haitians swarmed all over them, scoring the first goal as early as the 9th minute. TCI packed it in, camping themselves deep in their half, just getting rid of the ball where possible. They managed not a single shot on goal the entire game. But, as one Haitian journalist marveled, it was all fair play: no hacking, no dirty tackling, just honorable, if bottom-class football. They impressed no one with their skills, or even their physical condition--a Jamaican supporter, writing in an online forum, referred to the keeper as "dis fatman who couldn't even jump off de ground." But Haiti missed a bucketful of chances, and although they might easily have scored many more, the final score was a merciful 5-0.

        One leg down, and what was there to say? James Poston, the governor of Turks & Caicos, whose team had just been shellacked: ''This is a great image for our country…our players will be role models back home.'' Jean-Bertrand Aristide said nothing: he was holed up in Port-au-Prince, as rebels took city after city. News reports out of Haiti were devastating. Peter Germain, one of the Haitian players, learned that his house had been destroyed by fire. And here in the safe, affluent USA, people talked about gay marriage, and Janet Jackson's breasts, and there was another football game to play.

        Haiti, with the tie already decided, rested 6 of their starters. TCI's best player, Gavin Glinton, was out with an injury. Player-coach Paul Crosbie understands losing (he's a Scot), and although he had been injured too, suited himself up and started the game. Everyone braced for a second rout.

        As in the first game, Haiti scored in the 9th minute--but this time only on a disputed penalty. And TCI wasn't just defending any more: they moved up the field, pressed harder, used a sweeper for defensive cover. Suicide, right? Not in this story. Maybe it was because Haiti played the second string; maybe TCI were paranormally inspired. Maybe the gods, for reasons of their own, had ordained some special minnow magic. But Gerry Gregg, the fat man in goal, made 11 saves, some of them brilliant. TCI forced two good saves from Haitian keeper Luigi Beauzile. And incredibly, Haiti didn't score again the whole match. Well, not strictly true. They did get a goal--an own goal, of course, scored in the 41st minute by none other than Paul Crosbie. But that was all. In the 80th minute, James Slattery, aged 45, entered the game for TCI. In the 86th minute, Ryan Duffy, aged 16, joined him on the pitch. When the final whistle blew, the score was still 2-0, an incredible 0-0 for the second half. The Haitian fans gave TCI a 10-minute standing ovation. Aggregate final 7-0: Haiti to the next round, TCI out.

        But you knew that already. So what happens next? Turks and Caicos will try to build on the experience, perhaps develop some quality local players. It looks like they're going to enter the next Gold Cup qualifiers, where with any luck they'll be matched up with teams in their class. (Look out, USVI!) As for Crosbie, maybe he'll stay on--hey, it's a low-pressure job, and you can't beat the weather--or maybe he'll send in his resume when Berti Vogts gets the axe. All we know is that we won't know: TCI will slip back into obscurity, and good luck getting the details, even over the Internet.

        As for Haiti, they have a date with Jamaica in June. The team is camping in Florida, playing more football: they drew with Nicaragua last week, and have a big game soon against the USA. They'll watch the news from home with hope and dread; if, by a miracle, things settle by the summer, they might even get to play before their home fans.

        So there it is: two games and out, and life goes on. But--you think about the Haitian players, their lives disintegrating, their country disintegrating, still dribbling, passing, scoring, using the superb skills they were born with, because there's nothing else they could do. And you think about the men from Turks and Caicos, out-of-shape part-timers taking a leave from their day jobs, flying in from all over the world for the chance to play for a team without the slightest chance of winning, or even scoring. And as dreadful as the game can be, with a corrupt world organization, insolvent clubs, incompetent referees, cheating players, violent fans, you want to say: please, just for one month, or one week, or one day, can't we all live football, instead of real life? For just one day, can't we all live football?


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