When Cayman women take on Puerto Rico at the playing field in North Side tonight, their captain is certain that if they fail it won’t be from lack of preparation.
It’s Cayman’s first football match in the Group D Olympic qualifiers and they need a confidence-boosting display to take into their other match against Haiti on Sunday.
Cayman have been coached intensively by Brazilian Thiago Cunha and Jamaican Bobby McLaren for months now and although there is a way to go because some players are so young, morale in the camp is soaring.
Skipper Krishan Welcome is comfortable with the high expectations. ‘I don’t think there’s a special amount of pressure on the captain, per se. Each player has their role to play and knows what they have to do. As long as we do our best and each person fulfils their role, I think we’ll do fantastic.’
Welcome, 27, played football in university and has been a Cayman international since she returned home four years ago. She’s a right back but can also play midfield if necessary. ‘I don’t want to offend anybody who’s been in previous teams, but I feel this is the best prepared team I’ve played in. There are a lot of new, young players involved who have got a different level of stamina, fitness and higher mental level of preparedness. I’ve been with coach Thiago since I came back to Cayman and there’s been a natural progression over that period.
‘Unfortunately, we don’t know too much about the opposition in terms of tactics and strategy because we haven’t seen them or had proper scouting done but in terms of rankings and what we’ve heard from people who’ve played them we should have a pretty good game against Puerto Rico. Haiti are obviously going to be the harder team to beat and from what we understand they play a lot like Jamaica, with a lot of power and they like to switch the ball a lot. So I think we’re fairly well prepared in terms of knowing the opposition but I think the most important thing is to know what we are capable of and be confident that when we got out there, any team that comes along better be prepared.’
Tonight’s game kicks off at 7.30. Women spectators get in free and males have to pay a nominal fee. All Cayman supporters are encouraged to wear red tops.
Welcome is one of few players in the side who is not a teenager. She has no fears that the youngsters won’t be up to the challenger. ‘I don’t have any worries at all about the physical play at all with the younger girls. We actually went to Jamaica in July and the girls performed extremely well. We had members of the Jamaican team say to us: ‘I’ve got daughters their age and we’ve had a rough time against them.’ These were 13-year-olds tackling 34-year-olds and putting them on the ground. A young team is a good team, vitality and strength.’
She’s Welcome by name and nature but certainly not that on the pitch. ‘I just want teams to know that nobody should come down the right side because it’s a closed avenue. The right side won’t be open.’
Shenel Gall, 16, is a forward brimming with class. She was a winger last season and her brilliance inspired Cunha to convert her into a forward. The switch paid off. Despite her diminutive size, she scores for fun. ‘I feel confident that my team is going to be really good. I’m not worried about the big Haitians. Short people come in handy at some point. If they’re tall I can just go round them.’
Gall supports Chelsea, bless her, so she must know her football. Players who inspire her are Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. ‘I’m a big Chelsea fan and Essien’s my favourite. He’s so calm and I like his style of playing.’
Her brother Fabio, 14, is a Cayman international too. He recently went to Trinidad for the Caribbean championships. The used to practice together after school and behind mum’s back in the house.
There is a lot of banter in the Gall household on who is the better of the two. ‘That’s what we’re always debating. One day I say I’m the best player then he comes back and says he’s the better player. When we ask mum she doesn’t want to answer that question just to keep the peace.’