Cayman may have had its attention on hurricane Gustav last week but its footballers temporarily put the country at ease.
On Wednesday night Cayman had one of its best games in some time as they not only defeated St. Maartin but did so in convincing fashion.
The two squads were facing off in the second game in Group C of the Digicel Caribbean Championships.
Cayman came out focused on the task at hand. Talk was about strategy and cohesion among the midfield.
A storm may have been looming but for those players the only storm they thought of was the one they would create on the field.
Their play in the first half certainly bore that to be true.
Cayman looked the looser, more aggressive squad and consistently took stabs into the St. Martin area and had solid chances on goal.
The stats say Cayman would get six shots on goal but they easily could have had a lot more.
New Team Captain Dion Brandon was the steady hand that stirred the Cayman side. His unselfish play and smart passing opened up much of the midfield and gave the wingers time and space for adventures up field.
On the opposite end of the field, the Cayman defence was tight and organized. St. Martin did instil a bit of pressure but Cayman stood firm with a calm, cool and collected backline.
Defenders like Philip Berry and Rene Carter routinely cleared balls in the danger area and were not flustered with corner kick or set pieces.
Carter in particular was instrumental in getting the ball to the wing where St. Martin looked shocked and overwhelmed with the pace of Cayman’s wingers.
In the middle of the first half, Cayman had its best chance for a goal. Cayman’s Rene Carter dribbled his way past a few defenders in midfield and was tripped up outside the penalty box.
The referee called the foul and awarded Cayman a free kick. Free kick specialist Dion Brandon would step up to take it.
He measured his stride, looked for his angle and launched a missile that soared just above the crossbar. The crowd let out a collective groan, knowing how close Cayman came to striking first blood.
With each foray into the St. Martin defence the crowd of some 1200 onlookers would rise to life. Spectators were on edge, partly because they wanted a Cayman goal and partly because they knew Cayman could not afford to play from behind.
At the half-time whistle Cayman would be level with St. Martin 0-0. As Cayman marched into the locker room Coach Carl Brown seemed neutral on Cayman’s performance.
However his half-time speech to the players would prove otherwise. Brown told his troops they had played good though they could do better. He encouraged better ball-handling, more aggressive offence and simply to play up to the level he felt they could.
As the second half unfolded, it became clear players took those words to heart. Cayman took their attack on the St. Martin goal up a notch and launched many of the balls won in midfield to the wing where the quickness of John Kelly and Jairo Sanchez took over.
Though St. Martin’s Jean-Paul Arrondell and Charles Emile did their best to keep the Cayman attack at bay, the local favourites would find the back of the net just 13 minutes into the second half.
Sanchez’s pace led him to the left corner with a defender on his heels. Sanchez would make a little dribble move and launch a beautiful cross into the penalty area.
It looked at first that he had missed his target as Ian Lindo had jumped and mistimed his header.
The St. Martin defence certainly thought so as they were as shocked as anyone that the ball landed at Calvin Jefford’s feet.
But Jefford made no mistake. He dribbled the ball past a defender before firing the ball into the back of the net.
The reaction from all was ecstatic. Players ran for the sidelines to motion to the stands, spectators made a loud roar and announcers and other media could be heard saying ‘goal’ for over a minute.
Cayman had put itself in prime position and everyone started to believe that Cayman could come away victorious.
In just 10 minutes time, Cayman would get extra insurance from arguably the lightning rod of the offence.
Sanchez would be the benefit of a defensive miscue. Jefford sent a ball into the St. Martin defence which Emile failed to clear near the penalty box.
Sanchez grabbed the ball, dribbled towards goal and fired a rocket past a diving Jean-Luc Marconnet for Cayman’s second goal.
The crowd went wild, officials cheered and everyone could sense a long-awaited win for Cayman.
If there were any doubts as to what the outcome of the game would be they were silenced in extra time.
Substitute Nikolai Hill, known more for his skill behind the mic as a radio announcer than a footballer, came on as an attacking forward and immediately went to work on a St. Martin defence that had little morale left.
On yet another St. Martin defensive miscue, which looked more out of fatigue than skill level, a ball sent towards goal from man-of the-match Jefford would end up loose near Cayman’s forwards.
Hill was right there and snatched up the ball and calmly changed directions on his defender leaving him all alone with the keeper.
Hill then launched a shot that punched the top shelf of the goal and assured Cayman would walk away the victors.
The final whistle would blow shortly thereafter and all the Cayman supporters would celebrate with loud cheers, stomping in the bleachers and a loud explosion of indiscernible noise.
The Cayman team took a victory sprint along the sideline, waiving to the crowd and hugging each other in relief.
A content Brown looked on and basked in the moment. Later he would say he was happy his attacking went well though he thought ball-control could have been better.
Ultimately, no matter how pretty or ugly the game was, Cayman got the win. For a program and a country hungry for a proud sporting moment, this game will for the moment leave a sweet taste in the mouths of many.
Throughout the week the Compass will give reports on all games played or to be played.