Cayman gets the better of Barbados

The Cayman Islands national men’s football team is celebrating a rare achievement, after beating Barbados 3-2 on Sunday night (8 September), their second win in as many games to begin their CONCACAF Nations League campaign and sit atop their group.

Returning home Saturday night after a 2-0 win over the USVI in St Croix two days earlier, the team appeared eager to put on a show in front of their supporters at Truman Bodden Sports Complex.

They got the crowd going early on when Michael Martin picked up where he left off in St Croix and blazed one past Barbadian netminder Krishmar Primus in the 5th minute. That was Martin’s third goal of the competition after scoring a pair in the opening game.

Michael Martin (right) has three goals after two games.

Barbados wouldn’t roll over and play dead. They were eager to show why they came in 41 spots ahead of Cayman in FIFA’s world rankings. Akeem Hill’s header past Cayman’s teenage keeper, Albertini Holness, brought matters back to level pegging.

The visitors had the better of the remainder of the half, both in terms of ball possession and chances created but were unable to pull ahead into the half.

A superb header from Jonah Ebanks in the 70th minute put Cayman back in the lead, only for Barbadian captain Rashad Jules to put a damper on the celebrations four minutes later.

Cayman kept the pressure up as play resumed and got what they were looking for when a defensive lapse by the Barbados back line rewarded midfielder Jorel Belafonte for his tenacity. Belafonte pounced and slotted the ball home for the eventual winner in the 75th minute, bringing the crowd to life much akin to how he was celebrated at the same venue as one of Cayman’s top track and field stars of his generation.

Bellafonte (18) made his first international goal count.

“It was almost like I was playing FIFA,” Bellafonte said, describing the frenetic action that saw three goals scored within a five-minute span, as though it was a video game.

“We were on a high then we were on a low. I literally felt the air being sucked out of Truman Bodden [Sports Complex] when Barbados scored…but that’s the beauty of the game, the highs and lows. We showed real character to come out and win this game because Barbados are a very good team,” he said.

Cayman took the win to move to six points atop Group A of League C but walked away showing the wear and tear of playing two games in four games, a span that included arriving shortly before kickoff in St Croix and a lengthy wait to get back home less than 24 hours before defending their turf.

Theron Wood had a good game in midfield.

“It meant everything, especially with what has been going on over the past seven days,” Bellafonte said. “It’s honestly a team effort. You see guys cramping left and right – that’s not by accident. We’ve been working extremely hard these past couple of months and it showed in a result like this”

Joshewa Frederick, Lucas Christian, Theron Wood, Michael Martin, and Andre McFarlane were all showing injuries. McFarlane’s came in the first game and watched from the bench for the win over Barbados.

“It hasn’t been easy but when you’re out of your comfort zone that’s where you’ll grow,” said head coach Benjamin Pugh, as he praised the team for their refusal to quit. “The players have stuck together really well and it showed on the pitch.”

Cayman Islands starting XI

The win versus the USVI was the senior team’s first since 2010 and to win another on the back of that is almost unheard of for Cayman men’s football. “It’s a real testament to the players,” Pugh said. “They’re the ones who put in the work…they deserved to win two games.

The success has come without the presence of first choice keeper and regular captain, Ramon Sealy, and defender Wesley Robinson, both of whom are rehabbing leg injuries, as well as without forward Mark Ebanks, who prior to the game versus USVI was the only player to score in international play at the senior level for Cayman for more than a half decade.

“They have a real good hunger. They’re desperate to win games and to prove people wrong. They want to achieve something,” the coach said, adding that part of the motivation for some of the young team was to catch the eyes of scouts to earn professional contracts overseas.

Football Cay vs Bar-3
Football Cay vs Bar-1
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Meantime, Barbados head coach, Russell Latapy, was left to assess how his team suffered its first loss of the campaign.

“I cannot question the effort and work rate,” he said. “We didn’t play to our capabilities.  I’m disappointed in the goals we allowed and losing three points.”

The former Soca Warriors star put the result into perspective. “The reality in this competition is that you have to win your home games, and if you win your home games then you give yourself a chance to advance. We’re still on track. We played at home and won at home. We came to a place where we knew was going to be a difficult place based on the way they played in the first game – they’re high on confidence.”

Barbados is second in the group on six points after 4-0 win over Saint Martin on 5 September. The USVI, also on six points, is third due to a lesser goal difference than Barbados, and Saint Martin is winless at the bottom of the table.

Cayman’s next action is 12 October away to Saint Martin before returning home against the same opponent on 15 October. The USVI then comes calling on 16 November before the Cayman Islands heads to Barbados for what should be an entertaining match-up and potentially the group decider on 19 November.

“We said from day one that what we wanted to do was to win games and top the group. There’s still a long way to go; there’s still four games to go but we put ourselves in a good position,” Pugh said.

The CONCACAF Nations League is played in a three-tiered format with Cayman playing in League C and are hoping for promotion to League B, if they keep current form and win their group.

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