World Cup 2006


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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



    Wrap-up: CONCACAF qualifiers, Round 1

    by Peter Goldstein

        The first round of the CONCACAF qualifiers is over: 10 winners, 10 losers. What's most striking about the results is how unstriking they were. All 9 of the clear favorites won, 8 of them easily (and the 9th, Dominica over Bahamas, was a special case). There were some winning margins that were closer (Haiti-Turks & Caicos) or wider (Bermuda-Montserrat) than expected, but in 20 individual games, only one genuine surprise result: Anguilla's 0:0 draw with Dominican Republic. The inevitable conclusion: at the bottom level of CONCACAF, there's no movement.

        It's not all that surprising. In football, stepping up in class can take years of careful preparation. Look at the USA: for all its wealth and population advantages, it took nearly 20 years to bring the senior squad up to a competitive level. Most of the Caribbean countries are very small, and simply don't have the resources to devote to development. Plus, it takes plenty of perseverance: you have to nurture youth programs, you have to put the infrastructure in place, you have to make sure things stay functioning. One good qualifying run isn't enough. You need competent leadership, and consistent resources. That's hard to get under any circumstances, and even harder without money and a population base. It's no coincidence that the one team that looks ready to step up next time is Bahamas, the largest and richest of the minnows.

        Recently we've been privileged to talk with Clinton "Tinnie" Percival, former player and coach for the senior side of St. Kitts & Nevis, now coach of club team St. Paul's United. Later this month we'll post an interview with him, in which we can explore these questions further. It's all very relevant at the moment, because in June, the mid-level teams, the Surinams and St. Lucias, will be tested at a higher level, and we'll have a chance to see if they've made the progress that the minnows couldn't. For now, let's take a closer look at the results. We've covered a number of the first legs here; so we'll start with those earlier matchups, and finish off with the two ties (Anguilla-Dominican Republic, Dominica-Bahamas) that started later.


        The first leg between Surinam and Aruba had been one of the best games of the opening round, with Surinam winning 2:1 on the road. Aruba, the superminnow, had performed much better than expected, and although they had little chance of winning the tie, they were eager for the rematch to get some long-awaited respect. Surinam, the big favorite, had met unexpectedly rough opposition, but were pleased with how they had taken command in the second half, and anticipated a clear victory in the home leg. So with game two in the offing, both sides were feeling good.

        Unfortunately, most of the news in the interim was bad. At one point Surinam were unable to practice on their primary pitch because of a scheduling mixup with the local cup competition. Then, two of their most important players, league-leading scorer Carlos Loswijk and captain Clifton "Sancho" Sandvliet, picked up injuries that made them doubtful for the game. As for Aruba, they had received a visit from Dr. Keith Look Loy of FIFA, and it wasn't a friendly visit, either. Aruba had been given funds through the FIFA Goal program to help build a new sports complex, and the project was way behind schedule. They got an ultimatum and a deadline: get going soon, or we'll take the money back.

        As it turned out, Aruba might have been better off at the construction site. Loswijk and Sandvliet both played, and Surinam scored early and often. They were up 4:1 at halftime, and finished up 8:1, with a hat trick from sweeper Marlon Felter. It was the most goals Surinam had scored in their 70 years of competitive football. For Aruba, it was their worst defeat ever. They can't even take consolation from their goal: it came on a botched Surinam backpass.

        So while Aruba gets out the shovels, Surinam goes on to face Guatemala--we think. Remember, Guatemala was at one point suspended for government meddling with the FA. The suspension has been provisionally lifted, and right now the bet is they'll be allowed to compete. With FIFA you never know: Sepp may get a bad meal in Guatemala City, or a good set of stock options in Paramaribo, and that'll be that. But if Surinam does have to play Guatemala, they should be available to help the Arubans dig before the end of June.


        When we last left Guyana coach Neider Dos Santos, he was fuming at his treatment by Grenadian officials, who had confiscated his passport when he arrived at the airport for the first leg. When he got back to Guyana, he added a few more complaints for good measure. Not enough food: on the morning of the match, he had to go buy bread and cheese because the hotel supply was inadequate. Not enough crowd control: Grenadian fans came on the pitch after the second goal. And so on. He noted ominously: "Of course, I'm not surprised at what happened. World Cup football is a war and we have to face it as a war, too." It was hardly a coincidence, then, that when Grenada showed up for the second leg, they found late meals, a much-too-small bus, and substandard accommodations. When a Guyanese official was told that the Grenadian FA president was in the party, he reportedly replied: "Let the president sleep with someone in another room." Good thing we're all adults here.

        Unfortunately, psychological warfare was just about all Guyana had. It's bad enough when you're down 0:5 from the first leg; it's worse when you're out of goalkeepers too. The first choice, Richard Reynolds, had broken his arm before the first match; the second choice, Marlon Hendricks, had been red-carded; the third choice, U-23 keeper Fidel Smith, had been injured in practice. So that left 19-year-old Andrew Durant between the posts. Meanwhile, their most creative midfielder, Neil Hernandez, had walked out of camp. The coaches claimed he was sore because he'd been fined for breaking curfew; he claimed that live snakes had been found in three of the players' beds. "This was not one of the best camps I have been in," he commented.

        Meanwhile, Grenada were going about their business, stockpiling weapons. Their overseas pros had made the difference in the first leg, and for the second they added three more UK players: midfielder Dwane Lee of Exeter City, midfielder Tony Bedeau of Torquay, and the biggest gun of all, striker Jason Roberts of Wigan. It could have been even worse: a fourth call-up, winger Ashley Sestanovich of Sheffield United, declined the invitation.

        Although the Guyanese were making noises about overturning the 0:5 deficit, really the only question was whether they could get a win or draw to save face. They dominated play early, but the strikers missed their chances, and with inexperience in the nets, retribution was swift. In the 15th minute Durant misjudged a cross, and Ricky Charles, who had looked so good in the first leg, had himself an easy goal. Guyana fought back, getting a 29th minute equalizer from Carey Harris (the pass coming from Gregory "Jackie Chan" Richardson), but they just didn't have the quality to impose their game. In the 69th minute Roberts beat the offside trap to put Grenada ahead, and yet another legionnaire, Byron Bubb (Aylesbury United, former trainee at Milwall), got a third near the end.

        So it's Grenada over Guyana 8:1 on aggregate, the exact same result as in the 1998 qualifiers. The game scores, too, were almost identical: 5:0 and 3:1 this time, 6:0 and 2:1 back then. Still, you have to feel Guyana were a bit unlucky to lose by so much. They're a very young team, and the injuries and disciplinary problems had them on the back foot all the way. Dos Santos came in for a lot of criticism for ignoring established players in favor of promising youngsters. But Grenada was the favorite for a reason, and they played consistently well over the two legs. Now they face the USA, in what promises to be the biggest event in their football history, for both sporting and political reasons. Don't know about the politics? Do a web search for "Grenada" and "1983," and you'll find out soon enough.

    British Virgin Islands-St.Lucia

        St. Lucia had won only 1:0 in the opening leg, so though BVI remained a huge underdog, the tie was theoretically still in doubt. So both teams were naturally anxious to get on the pitch for those crucial training sessions. Except they couldn't. In BVI, the center of the only available full-size field had been torn up to prepare for the local cricket league. "It seems that cricket is more prioritized here than soccer," noted BVI coach Michael Tulloch, although as a Jamaican, he shouldn't have been surprised. St. Lucia's situation was even more embarrassing: the team was flatly barred from the National Stadium because the FA still owed $7000 in rental fees.

        Both teams took refuge on the road. BVI played a friendly at St. Kitts & Nevis, losing to a half-strength SKN national side 0:4. St. Lucia played tougher opposition and had better success, grabbing a 1:1 draw at St. Vincent & the Grenadines. St. Lucia was still the clear favorite, but Tulloch insisted his team had made progress, and that BVI was capable of an upset.

        It was a massacre. Playing at home, St. Lucia won 9:0, and by all accounts could have had a lot more. It seems unfair to go through the details, especially since a certain columnist here noted that "a major rout is unlikely." Hey, I said unlikely, not impossible!

        The wipeout aside, Tulloch seems to have been a good choice for BVI. He's an uncompromising guy, with a professional attitude, and he wants to stay to develop soccer to the next level (defined as stopping the cricket guys from digging up your pitches). BVI is in line for funds from the FIFA Goal program, so maybe now is the time.

        St. Lucia will want to make sure their bills are paid, because Panama's up next. Not a terribly intimidating opponent, perhaps, but St. Lucia has never played a team from outside the Caribbean. Technical Director Kingsley Armstrong is thinking big: he wants to get some friendlies in Venezuela, against a tougher level of competition. Panama will be the favorite, but a win for St. Lucia is by no means impossible, and it should be one of the most interesting matchups of the second round.

    United States Virgin Islands-St. Kitts & Nevis

        St. Kitts & Nevis had won 4:0 on the road in the first leg, so the only question was whether USVI could keep up their BVI mirror streak. In the last two major competitions, USVI and BVI had fallen by equal aggregate scores: 1-14 in the 2002 WCQ, 2-11 in the 2002 Caribbean Cup. This time around BVI had looked stronger, but the 0:9 thrashing from St. Lucia meant if USVI could hold St. Kitts & Nevis to 0:6, they'd hit the mark the third straight time.

        In the first half it looked as if USVI might actually do better. St. Kitts & Nevis, with the series in the bag, were probably looking ahead to Barbados, and seemed considerably out of sync. USVI almost scored in the 34th minute, with Kareem Wrensford forcing a fine save from Kaiyian Benjamin. Ian "Rumpie" Lake did manage two nice goals for SKN, but at the interval 6:0 looked like a stretch.

        But coach Elvis "Star" Browne must have rocked 'em and rolled 'em in the locker room, because they were a different team in the second half. Lake got his third a couple minutes in, and the Sugar Boyz took off. Austin "Dico" Huggins, in as a substitute, went wild on the left of attack. George "Yellowman" Isaac danced and dazzled. Every few minutes came another chance, and although they couldn't get them all, the totals mounted. Lake with his fourth! Lake with his fifth! Lake with his sixth (oops, hit the crossbar, no goal there). And when Yellowman scored in the 81st minute, the score was, miraculously, 6:0, and there we were. If only USVI could hold on…

        Unfortunately, St. Kitts & Nevis recruits football players, not stat freaks. In the 90th minute Dico sent a pass to a racing Yellowman, who controlled perfectly and put the chance away. The home radio announcer shrieked ecstatically: "Only George 'Yellowman' Isaac can make that happen!" So there's some consolation for USVI, then.

        Speaking of announcers, one of the great joys of the Internet is streaming audio. If the buffer gods are willing, you can get games in every language and accent known to man. So when St. Kitts & Nevis play, offers first-class football broadcasting, with marvelous Caribbean inflections that make you glad the British had an empire. They call the keeper the "custodian," and he doesn't punt the ball, he "dispatches" it. Fouls are "infringements." If the game's at home, every few minutes a commentator reminds you that you're "in Warner Park in downtown Basseterre." And however fast the play is going, the odds are you'll still hear a player's full name, plus nickname! "Only George 'Yellowman' Issac can make that happen!"

        We should spare a word for a man without a nickname, MacDonald Taylor, who started both games in defense for USVI. He's 46 years old (!!), and in this series he became the oldest player ever to take the field in a World Cup match. He's been playing club football in USVI for 30 years, and still runs five miles a day in training. He was even named the best defender in USVI last year. Let's see, when I was 46 I could still take the garbage out pretty decently…

        St. Kitts & Nevis will now play Barbados, in a real test for both sides. Over the years they've met in several friendlies, but never before in a tournament game. The prize is a spot in the Round of 12--in the weakest group, too, which means an outside shot at the Hexagonal. Barbados jumped up in class last cycle, but the St. Kitts & Nevis program has been improving steadily, and they'll have their big star, Keith "Kayamba" Gumbs, home from Malaysia. This could very well be the most competitive tie of the second round--so turn on, tune in, drop out, up your bandwidth, and head for downtown Basseterre.

    Cayman Islands-Cuba

        Cuba held all the cards going into the return leg: up 2:1 at home, with two road goals in their pocket, they were pretty much a cinch. But they made sure they kept up the preparations, playing no less than four home friendlies in the interim. Two were against a familiar foe, Panama, resulting in a 1-1 draw and a clear 3-0 win. The other two, though, were against the most unlikely of opponents, Fløy, a club from the Norwegian Third Division. Now the Third Division in Norway is really the fourth level, because, like England, Norway has a Premier Division. The Third Division is a gigantic amalgam of 288 teams divided into 24 different groups. Above them are the 56 teams of the Second Division, the 16 teams of the First Division, and the 14 teams of the Premier Division. So what was a club somewhere between the 87th and 374th best team in Norway doing in Cuba?

        Soaking up the sun, I assume. If you were on a fourth-level team in Norway, wouldn't you want to go to Cuba in March? The Cubans seemed bemused by the northerners, referring to them as "los vikingos." The results were easy 4-0 and 5-1 wins for the hosts, who didn't even play their first eleven, and everyone in Cuba agreed that the games had been a waste of time. I'll bet Fløy didn't mind, though, and they'll have new beachwear to show off back home.

        As for Caymans, they had played quite well in the first leg, but they couldn't get any friendlies in the interim, and it was too much to expect them to keep up the pace in Havana. The game turned out pretty much as anticipated: 3:0 to Cuba, on a hat trick by the inevitable Lester Moré. (Moré has now scored 9 of the team's last 12 goals in tournament games.) Caymans had a man sent off for a second yellow in the 37th minute, which didn't make things easier, but by that time Cuba was up 1:0 and dominating anyway. The tie finishes 5:1 on aggregate, which shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Cuba and Caymans have now met in three straight qualifying cycles, and here are the aggregates:

    1998: Cuba 6:0
    2002: Cuba 4:0
    2006: Cuba 5:1

        Let's give Caymans credit for the goal, though, their very first in WC qualifying competition. And let's hope they get to play someone else next time.

        Cuba now plays Costa Rica, in the scandalous tie that's been looming over the competition since the draw in December. I'll spare you the righteous anger this time; the bottom line is that Cuba almost certainly has only two more games to go. So if you're a club owner from Sweden or Finland, and looking for a nice warm vacation, contact them while you can!


        Three days after Monserrat lost the first leg to Bermuda 0:13, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted again. Then, in the week before the second leg…well, let's hear it from the experts at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where you can get some neat photos):

        "Activity at Soufrière Hills Volcano increased this week. The seismic network recorded 1 rockfall, 4 long period earthquakes, 6 volcano tectonic earthquakes and 6 hybrid earthquakes. Seismicity for the period was dominated by moderate to high tremor beginning at around 03:00 local time on 15 March with five episodes of moderate tremor. Each episode lasted about 1 hour, and individual episodes were about 1-1.5 hours apart. The tremor was accompanied by gas and ash venting. At 16:22 an increase in the energy level of the tremor was recorded and a convecting ash cloud was observed rising to around 6500 ft. At 17:45 emergent pulsating ash clouds were observed, although no eruption column was established…Tremor activity remained at elevated levels throughout the night peaking at about 22:45 coincident with a vigorous venting episode which produced an ash cloud reaching an estimated 15000 feet accompanied by lightning."

        I admit I'm not an expert on this, but it sounds kind of, wouldn't you say, ominous? OK, the remaining inhabitants of Montserrat are in a volcano-safe zone, but isn't it possible someone's trying to tell you something? Like--don't enter the World Cup?

        But let's face it, when you've lost 0:13 in the opening leg, volcanoes hold no terror. Montserrat called in the boys from the UK, chose four new starters, and before about 250 of the best fans in the world, took the field for their first home international in 9 years.

        But Bermuda took the field too, so the only question was the margin of victory. Coach Kenny Thompson kept 9 of 11 starters from the first leg, and told his team to concentrate on conserving energy and controlling the tempo. Montserrat responded with a physical approach (player and assistant coach Ottley Laborde would see red for a second bookable offense), and for a while at least, the match was fairly competitive. With only 5 minutes to go in the first half, the score was a liveable 0:2. But as in Bermuda, Montserrat let down just before the interval, and 3 goals in 5 minutes left them gasping.

        Give them credit, though: despite a Bermuda goal at the start of the second half, they battled to the end. Judging from the description, it was closer to kickboxing than football, but it was effective enough, and the visitors wouldn't score again until Montserrat was reduced to ten men. You can't exactly call 0:7 "respectable," but they'll take it.

        Next to the volcanic Australia-American Samoa 31:0, Bermuda-Montserrat is no more than a vigorous venting episode. Still, the series set two records. The 13:0 win was the biggest ever in a CONCACAF qualifier; the 20:0 aggregate was the biggest two-leg victory in all of World Cup qualifying history. We won't need to wait for next month's FIFA rankings to know where Montserrat will wind up.

        For Bermuda, though, it's on to El Salvador. We'll have plenty to say about this matchup in a few months, but for now, consider some history. In Bermuda, all teams are compared to the great 1994 WC qualifier side, which shocked the region by advancing to the final eight. Their leading scorer? Shaun Goater, who'll be participating again this summer. Another member of the team? Kenny Thompson, the current head coach. Their most famous victory? October 18, 1992, 1:0 vs. El Salvador. Should be some pretty good pep talks.

    Antigua & Barbuda-Netherlands Antilles

        From the beginning this looked like the tightest matchup of the round. It was a classic battle of football worlds, too. A&B was fielding a largely home-based squad--amateurs, true, but among the best in the region. The Antilles had a largely overseas squad, well-drilled pros from the first and second divisions in Holland. A&B was proud to have a home-grown coach, Rolston "Debu" Williams, and a win would mean the first time they had advanced under local leadership. The Antilles not only had a Dutch coach, Pim Verbeek, but he actually lived in Holland, scouting the available talent, coordinating with local coaches back in the Antilles.

        "Pros" sounds better than "amateurs," but overseas squads are much tougher to get together for training. The A&B players had been practicing together for several months, whereas the Antilles had only trained in January, during the winter break in Holland. In the opener in Antigua, the home-based side was dominant, winning 2:0 and missing several more chances. The Antilleans were tired and a bit disoriented, having to fly in right after their league games, and frankly admitted they'd been caught out by the speed of their opponents. True, they'd be under the same constraints in the second leg, but the coaching staff promised they'd be better prepared.

        Ironically, it was A&B that wound up with an overseas problem, and a pretty original one at that. Their first choice keeper, Janiel "Board" Simon, attends the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg in the USA. A&B had expected to bring him in for the second leg, but he couldn't make it because he had to take an exam. Read that over carefully: he couldn't make it because he had to take an exam. Come on, now, in my day job I'm a college professor--haven't these guys ever heard of make-up exams? Wouldn't any halfway decent professor let his student go play in THE WORLD CUP, for crying out loud, and let him take the exam afterwards? Is it too late to kick South Carolina out of the Union?

        But an exam it was, so A&B went with a local keeper, Elvis "Reptile" Anthony. The further irony was that the Antilles had to go with a local keeper too. Their overseas man, Raymond Homoet, an Ajax property, had a sore back and couldn't make the start. So the job fell to Marcello Pisas, veteran of the 2002 WCQs and starter for two-time defending Antilles champions SV Centro Social Deportivo Barber.

        Oh, and while we're talking amateurs, how about the Antigua & Barbuda FA? The coaches had asked for at least two days in the Antilles before the game, reasonable enough under the circumstances. But the federation couldn't coordinate the plane schedules. The team got only one night--and to top it off, were under the impression that the game was at 4 PM, when it was in fact at 8PM. Plus, according to coach Williams, the chosen accommodations were insufficient and the food was rotten. (Hey Rolston, there's a guy named Neider in Guyana you should meet.)

        The game did actually start at 8, before an enthusiastic crowd of 10,000, the largest of the entire first round. From the start it was clear that this time the pros were ready. Rocky Siberie (Cambuur Leeuwarden) forced a save from Anthony in the first minute. The Antilles used their pressure game effectively, and about the 15th minute their attack kicked into high gear. Anthony was looking good in goal, but he couldn't stop Siberie's 26th minute shot, and the Antilles were on top. Still, after the goal, A&B got more of the play, and for a while appeared to have held off the charge. But they missed a sure equalizer when Kerry Peters shot wide after a rebound off the post. And just before halftime came a crusher: Eugene Martha (Cambuur Leeuwarden) headed home a corner to level the scores on aggregate. Perhaps demoralized, A&B allowed the third only three minutes into the second half, on a solo effort by Brutil Hosé (FC Dordrecht).

        It wasn't over yet: A&B still needed only a road goal for the win, and when in the 52nd minute Lennox Mauris saw straight red, the Antilles were in trouble. But their luck, and nerve, held. First, A&B missed a couple of good chances. Then, in the 75th minute, Ranja Christian of A&B got a red card of his own, so the teams were back on even terms. And finally, in the dying seconds, the homeboy won it for the foreigners: Marcello Pisas made the save of the night, denying Peter "Big Pete" Byers to clinch the tie.

        The loss was devastating for Antigua & Barbuda, who were coming off FIFA suspension and wanted badly to get their program on track. For the Antilles, though, it was a welcome echo of their storied past. Up through the 60's, they were the strongest side in the Caribbean, but they hadn't won a WCQ tie in 16 years. Their opponent then had been none other than Antigua (not yet Barbuda), and the Antilles won convincingly, 4:1 on aggregate. Alas, they then fell 0:6 to El Salvador. Can they do better this time against Honduras? Hard to say; pros or amateurs, 3:2 over A&B doesn't put you in the top class. But at least they'll have a bit of time to train--the Dutch season ends early this year, so the big boys can prepare for Euro 2004.

    Dominican Republic-Anguilla

        Anguilla flew into the Dominican Republic a huge underdog--for those of a European bent, think San Marino at Azerbaijan. To make things worse, they'd have to play both games on the road, since they didn't have the facilities for a home leg. So even the most zealous Anguilla fan wouldn't have squawked if they'd gone down quickly. And he undoubtedly would have done a double take when the first-leg score came over the wire: 0:0.

        A sensational result for Anguilla--but how did they do it? Let's look at the first four Anguilla players as originally shown on the FIFA matchtracker:

    M Connor
    N Connor
    G Connor
    L Connor

        Human cloning--a breakthrough at last! The scientific advance of the millenium, in Anguilla, of all places!

        Actually, the lineup isn't quite as bizarre as it looks (although it's bizarre enough). Anguilla is an island colony, with a population of only 12,000, and so certain surnames tend to predominate. Connor is one of them (others are Brooks and Hodge). It's a distinguished clan: Cardigan Connor played county cricket for Hampshire for 15 years, and Keith Connor won the European triple jump in 1982 and picked up a bronze at the 1984 Olympics. It's not all that surprising, then, that the substitute list for the first leg included a certain K Connor as well.

        But the M Connor in goal is a story in itself. According to one Dominican report, Anguilla traveled to Santo Domingo fully expecting to play their regular keeper, Ryan Liddie. But he was declared ineligible for the game, because it was discovered he had been born in St. Kitts! It looks as if FIFA's brand-new anti-Ailton 2-years-residence rule disqualified him--except Liddie has been the Anguillan first-choice keeper for at least 4 years. Has he merely been shuttling in from St. Kitts for the games? I tried to get a hold of the Anguillan FA (the director is, remarkably enough, named Guishard, not Connor), but no response. What we do know is that Anguilla brought only one full-time keeper on the trip, because with Liddie unavailable, they had to go with Marvin Connor, normally a defender/midfielder.

        By all accounts, though, M Connor performed like a real live keeper, making a couple of good saves and spending most of the time screaming at his defense. There wasn't much else to do: Anguilla planted themselves in their half and battled for the ball in midfield, hoping for counterattacks that never came. So it was one-way traffic for 90 minutes, but, as so often happens, the hosts couldn't finish. Omar Cuevas Zapata, DR's veteran striker, hit the crossbar in the 40th minute, and hesitated too long on a sitter a few minutes later. And the team missed at least two more clear chances.

        William Bennett, DR's Cuban coach, was more satisfied with the result than you might expect. Among other things, he noted that the lack of international friendlies meant his team wasn't terribly sharp. (OK, but wouldn't it have made sense to, like, schedule a few international friendlies?) He promised a better performance in the second game. His ace in the hole: the first game had been DR's official home leg, so although the teams stayed in Santo Domingo, the second game would be their official away leg. That meant any goals DR scored would count as away goals in the final tally. So all they needed was a draw, unless it wound up 0:0 again.

        Anguilla started the second match with the four Connors, although FIFA, in an obvious attempt to deflect suspicion, put G Connor last on the matchtracker lineup, instead of up with M, N, and L. But Anguilla went for broke, starting both S and K Kentish, and T and I Benjamin. Dominican Republic, who had substituted C Reyes for F Reyes in the first game, played it cool, putting them both on the bench, but cautiously moved F Vasquez into the starting lineup while keeping L Vasquez in reserve. Of course, K Connor was still on the bench for Anguilla. (As was the mysteriously named R Renaldo--draw your own conclusions.)

        Anguilla, not surprisingly, played for the 0:0 draw, but DR sent everyone into attack, and the bubble burst early. Zapata fired one in from outside the box in the 15th minute, and that was pretty much that. Down a road goal, Anguilla had to open up, and all the Connors in Ireland couldn't have saved them. It wasn't Bermuda-Montserrat, but it was ugly enough, and the 0:6 final put an end to their plans for world domination. The official scoresheet downgraded L Connor to L Conner, and K Connor didn't even get into the game.

        Dominican Republic now moves on to play Trinidad & Tobago, where they'll be as big an underdog as Anguilla was here. Maybe by June they'll have figured out how to schedule a few friendlies. But either way, if the first game turns out 0:0, check the match report: if a Brooks or a Hodge shows up in their lineup, I'd get a DNA sample real quick.


        Every World Cup cycle there are a few knockout ties that wind up being played at a single location. Sometimes it's political turmoil, sometimes ground difficulties, sometimes just money, but one lucky team gets to host both games. You already know about Dominican Republic-Anguilla. This year Ghana also got two at home against Somalia; four years ago it was Cameroon against Somalia, and St. Kitts & Nevis against Turks & Caicos. As you can see, the home switch rarely matters, because generally the double host is a prohibitive favorite anyway.

        Not with Dominica-Bahamas, though. Had the tie been scheduled home-and-away, Dominica would have been the logical pick. Their program is more advanced, and over the years their results have been stronger. They had a more rigorous runup schedule as well, with games against BVI, USVI, and Barbados. Bahamas' only recent international friendly was back in December, and an 0:6 loss to Haiti wasn't exactly the best kind of preparation. But Dominica couldn't host their half of the tie: their Windsor Park ground had been demolished, and they didn't have an all-seater stadium available. As per FIFA regulations, the games had to go to Bahamas. And while Dominica is stronger, they're not dramatically so, and the home advantage for Bahamas threatened to even out the tie.

        To make it worse for Dominica, Bahamas had a clear financial advantage as well. Although they're just now coming to football (they usually call it soccer, by the way), they're one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, and the extra funds allowed them to scout and bring in overseas players. Not that they're galacticos or anything: most are college students in the USA and elsewhere. Then there are a few oddballs: keeper Dwayne Whylly, so young that he's still in preparatory school, and midfielder Kamal DeGregory, who in a varied career has found himself in such glamorous places as the Mexican fourth division. Still, this was an advantage over Dominica, who admitted they didn't have the money at the moment to track down and transport foreign-based players.

        So with the gap between the two teams narrowed, Bahamas and Dominica put on the closest tie of the round. The first game was played in high winds, and chances were hard to come by. Bahamas, with six of their overseas players in the lineup, had possession most of the first half, but were unable to convert. In the second half they kept up the pressure, and the breakthrough came in the 61st minute, with Damani Horton (University of Bristol) scoring a fine solo goal. With time running out, Bahamas seemed in control of the match, but Dominica's Vincent Casimir, a veteran of the 2002 qualifiers, scored a surprise equalizer in the 88th minute.

        Dominica coach Don Leogal admitted his team was lucky to get away with the 1:1 draw. In fact, the Bahamians claimed the equalizer had been offside, and the AP story said referee Mark Forde of Barbados had ignored the linesman's flag. One instance, anyway, where the home advantage didn't help. Or maybe it did, sort of. Although the game was played in Nassau, it was officially the home leg for Dominica. Still, the draw left Bahamas in good shape, with a road goal to their credit.

        Early in game two, Bahamas again had most of the play. But they just couldn't finish, with Nesley Jean, the home-based striker, missing a variety of chances. In the 38th minute, Casimir slammed in a free kick to put the visitors up on aggregate. Now Dominica looked in control--but just a minute later, Bishara Etienne picked up his second yellow card, and Dominica were faced with holding out for 50 minutes with ten men.

        They couldn't do it. In the 69th minute Jean finally struck home, and everything looked go for the hosts. But only six minutes later they too had a man sent off for a second yellow. So it was 10 on 10, with extra time in sight.

        But Dominica's experience was too much. Substitute Kelly Peters, another veteran of past WCQs, was left unmarked on a corner, and got the go-ahead goal only 5 minutes from time. Casimir put it away a minute later. Full time 1:3, with Dominica taking the tie 4:2 on aggregate.

        It had been a rough, wild series, with a total of 12 yellow cards in the two matches. In the end, the favorites had overcome the home disadvantage, but had been lucky to do so. Look out for Bahamas next cycle--their domestic league has expanded in recent years, and soccer could very well be a growth sport. And talk about youth: Dwayne Whylly isn't even in college yet, and Cameron Hepple, who started both games, is only 15 years old! With a large population base (300,000) and plenty of financial support, they might very well move up a notch four years down the road.

        Meanwhile, Dominica's reward is Mexico, the toughest team in the pack. In Spanish, they call this "bailando con la mas fea": dancing with the ugliest. But for Dominica it's a thing of beauty, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they're thrilled to be there. Sure, the scores may be outrageous, but they'll be able to tell their grandchildren they actually played football in the great Azteca stadium in Mexico--twice, because Dominica won't have a stadium ready by then either.


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