In a tense affair that would decide the fate of both teams, Cayman and Bermuda renewed hostilities for the final game of Group C in the Digicel Caribbean Championships.
Needing a draw or an outright victory in their final game hosts Cayman would not have fond memories of their last encounter with the burly Bermudans at the Truman Bodden Complex on Sunday.
Bermuda had knocked them out of World Cup qualification on March 30 with a 3-1 victory at the very same ground.
From the onset it was clear that both teams knew that this game would be more of a tactical chess match.
Despite an energetic start from both teams, clear cut chances were few and far between with both outfits defending as a team and doing the same going forward.
An outright victory was the only option for the Bermudans if they were to leapfrog Cayman into the second qualifying space from Group C, so it came as little surprise that it was they that pushed the envelope in attack. Antigua & Barbuda were the other team that went through.
John Nusum, who had a disappointing showing during their last game, was the first to pose a threat to the Caymanians, with a free shot on goal which was aimed directly at Ireland-based keeper Tuda Murphy.
That opening salvo was followed by another wing attack from the ever present Damon Ming, who saw his near post cross flicked just wide.
Bermuda continued to threaten with slick ball movement stretching the Cayman defence. However Cayman remained resilient and kept them at bay.
Cayman’s standout forward Calvin Escobar Jefford was the release valve upfield and when he was booked for dissent after being upended in the centre circle it almost ignited a golden opportunity.
Damon Ming looked the most obvious threat to the Caymanian applecart as his marauding runs along the flank often drew two defenders at a time.
A collision would force Murphy to go off with a hip injury, as crowd favourite reserve keeper Jermaine Brown, crooned at the chance to enter such a keenly contested game.
Brown would be called upon early, as quadruple goal scorer Reginald Lambe made his presence felt with a move late in the half that saw him break for the byline and see a cross-turned-shot wipe across the face of goal at the close of the half.
The second half began with the same urgency that the first had ended, with Cayman’s Garth Anderson upping the ante, unfurling a 30-yard screamer that just skidded to the right of the Bermudan goal.
Bermuda responded with their own slick move: as Nusum passed to Lambe, who worked it to Stephen Astwood, who then flicked the ball up and volleyed over the bar from just inside the box.
Cayman striker Carson Fagan, who had impressed as a substitute in the previous game, wasn’t allowed to replicate that performance as he was issued a second yellow card for a handball in dubious circumstances, as he tried to protect himself from a Ming free-kick.
Cayman were a man short for merely a minute as Bermuda’s Astwood was shown straight red for what appeared to be dissent.
The game lulled for a brief moment before Nusum aimed a curling 20 yard shot from the left that was intercepted by an alert Brown.
The keeper would be called upon again as Bermuda pushed the attacking envelope with a succession of long range shots.
Jefford got even closer when his ankle breaking turn separated him from his marker before firing a low shot from an acute angle, which was cleared off of the line by an alert Antonio Lowe tracking back.
The final 15 minutes saw the game become more open, as the pendulum of power swung to both sides, trading attacks with alternate moves up field.
Cayman came close again when Mario Carter’s blistering shot was too hot for the Bermuda keeper, who parried out for a corner.
As expected a final surge from the Bermudans saw them create several more shooting opportunities as the final whistle drew near and the Caymanians decided to put almost everyone behind the ball.
Deep in extra time Cayman were denied two penalty calls as Jefford went down in the box after two long clearances from Brown.
With a nation waiting with baited breath for the final whistle, a double fist pump from Cayman coach Carl Brown meant that Cayman had done enough to qualify for the next stage of the Digicel Caribbean Championships.
Cayman secured second place in Group C with a point from the draw against a bemused and disheartened Bermuda.
Cayman Islands: 1. Tuda Murphy (12. Jermaine Dennis Brown min 35), 3. Phillip Mark Berry, 4. O’Neil Ricardo Taylor, 5. Horace Nelson, 7. Calvin Rene Escobar Jefford, 9. Jairo Sanchez (8. Ron Christopher Douglas min 45), 11. Carson David Fagan, 13. Mario Rene Funez Carter, 16. Gary Dion Brandon (6. Ian Albert Lindo min 70), 18. Leighton Elroy Elliott, 20. Garth O’Neil Anderson
Subs: 2. Ivan Trevor Gibbs, 10. Ericksen Morfy – Brown, 15. John Kelly Jr., 17. Nikolai O. Alexander Hill.
Bermuda: 1. Timothey Figuerido, 2. Darius Cox, 4. Kijuan Franks, 5. Antonio Lowe, 7. Damon Ming (16. Casey Castle min 90), 8. John Nusum (12. Jason Davis min 83), 9. Stephen Astwood 11. Reginald Lambe, 14. Roger Lee (19. Tumani Steede min 75), 15. Devaun Degraff, 21. Jemieko Jennings.
Subs: 13. Nigel Burgess.