Cayman Islands 1
Cayman Islands football hasn’t had many proud moments in the last few years mainly because Hurricane Ivan decimated its national program. But on Sunday night Cayman’s youngsters showed a maturity beyond their years to earn an invaluable score draw in a World Cup qualifier.
Before traveling to Hamilton for the first leg of his side’s preliminary series with Bermuda, Cayman coach Carl Brown made clear his overall hopes for the trip. He said: ‘If we can’t take all three points back home we’d like to make sure we don’t leave all of them over there.’
In the end, a late equaliser from Richard ‘Allean’ Grant made quite sure that the part-timers would be heading back for their 30 March return leg on home soil with real hopes of completing a huge upset.
In a hint of things to come, Cayman went out in positive mood right from the start at the National Stadium. Jedd Ebanks took the first significant shot – from 30 yards – testing Bermudan keeper Timmy Figureido with just seconds gone.
The much-fancied Bermudans, who at a FIFA ranking of 147 were 34 places above Cayman, soon began to take hold of the match, even without star Major League Soccer wing back Khano Smith who failed to recover in time from groin surgery. With 10 minutes gone, Ireland-based Cayman keeper Tuda Murphy was under continual pressure. Bermuda’s Keishan Bean and Tyrell Burgess both went close.
They made the pressure pay in the 18th minute when Burgess met a cross from the right and slammed home the first goal of the CONCACAF qualifying rounds.
After piling it on for the rest of the first half, the Bermudans continued in the same fashion after the break. John Barry Nusum and Domico Coddington both went close.
In the end Bermuda, who controlled the match throughout, were made to pay for their profligate finishing. Grant drew the visitors level with only four minutes left on the clock. The impressive substitute Eric Brown sent in a perfect cross that was knocked in by the well-placed striker to a roar of delight from the visitors’ bench.
‘We set out to make sure that we did not lose and this result will do our confidence wonders,’ said Brown. Bermuda coach Keith Tucker was not the happiest man at the post-game press conference. ‘That’s soccer for you,’ he fumed. ‘You can dominate an entire game but if you don’t put your chances away they will come back to haunt you, and today that’s exactly what happened.’
Nevertheless, Cayman have every right to savour the draw. On arriving back at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Monday afternoon, captain Tom Elliot said: ‘We’re pretty happy. At times we were under pressure and on the back foot but we managed to pull together and nick one in the last few minutes.
‘Bermuda were pretty good. Well organised, very athletic, strong and quick, but we were ready for them. They scored early, a world class goal, great finish and they could have made it two a little later but we managed to fight them off and stick in there and snatch the draw.’
Elliot was getting anxious towards the end. ‘I admit that with 15 minutes left I was wondering where our goal was going to come from but we made a couple of substitutions which gave us some fresh legs and new energy. All of a sudden they were on the back foot and we could have scored two in the last 10 minutes, one of them went right across the goal line. Two minutes later we found the back of the net.
‘In the return leg 0-0 will be enough to put us through. Now that we’ve played them we know what they’re like. They had a couple of players missing and we had a couple out as well but now we know what we have to do.’
Elliot sees their strengths as their central and left midfield and a couple of big strikers. ‘Myself and Martin Ward play together for Sunset at the back and enjoy a physical game too so it’ll work well for us.’
A jubilant Grant said: ‘Even though they went ahead early we never had it in our minds to give up because we knew what our minds was, to either win or get a draw. We’d have prefer a win but we got a draw so we’re more relaxed right now.’
Grant, 24, plays left midfield for the national side and as a striker for Latinos. It was a superb way to make his international debut. ‘We’ve got 55 days to go before the second leg,’ he said. ‘We’ve got a week off from training and then we’ve got to train hard again from Monday. We’ve got to put it in our minds that there’s still 90 more minutes to go.
‘Carl Brown is excellent. There’s no complaints about him and I will stick with him as long as I’m in the national side because he’s willing to teach you. You’ve just got to be patient and willing to learn.’
Jeffrey Webb, president of Cayman Islands Football Association, said: ‘This is a fantastic result. To get a draw in a World Cup qualifying game on foreign soil is incredible. It’s historic for us. I’m proud of the players, a great performance, they showed great character. Bermuda’s goal was tremendous, they played beautifully, but Cayman showed great determination, played with a passion and resilience. They went on the field with a resolve that they were going to get a result. They went out there with a purpose and conviction and you could tell that they weren’t going to be denied.
‘Carl Brown’s input has been invaluable. Not just from a football side but also from a human development side. You’re starting to see the impact he’s making on these young people and that’s tremendous. He’s not only developing them on a football level but also as human beings.’
The second leg promises to be a great night as it’s the christening of the new Truman Bodden pitch. ‘We expect and hope that the Caymanian supporters will come out and back us. It’s going to take an incredible amount of energy and work for Cayman to get the result that they deserve.’