Cayman goes down fighting in World Cup qualifier

Knocked out by Belize on away-goals rule

A fighting performance from the Cayman Islands was not enough to prevent them from exiting the World Cup in the first qualifying round on Sunday. 

Mark Ebanks opened the scoring and had a second goal disallowed as the national team came agonizingly close to defeating Belize. The game finished 1-1, with Belize progressing to the next round on the away-goals rule. 

Having drawn the opening leg 0-0 in Belmopan last week, the tie was evenly balanced ahead of Sunday’s second leg.  

Things looked good for Cayman, when Mark Ebanks opened the scoring, volleying home from close-range after a scramble in the penalty area with just five minutes on the clock. 

But Elroy Kuylen’s strike, direct from a free-kick on the 20-minute mark, swung the tie back in Belize’s favor. 

With around 800 supporters urging them on, Cayman continued to press for a winner. They thought they had got it when Ebanks fired home with 20 minutes to go, but he was penalized for a foul in the buildup and Belize held on to get the result they needed to progress. 

“I am disappointed, because I felt the goal should have been allowed. It was a 50-50 challenge,” said Ebanks. 

“We were coming at them in the second half and I honestly felt we did enough to win. We had a couple of chances and I felt we could have scored three or four. 

“It was a tough game but we played our hearts out and I felt we deserved to win.” 

The two-leg playoff, the first step in a lengthy process to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018, was the first time Cayman’s senior men’s team had played together since 2011. 

Ebanks, 24, a striker for Elite, admits they were a little rusty in the first leg, but fought hard to get a 0-0 draw in Belize. 

“We were a bit shaky in the first leg but we got our passing game going on Sunday. It has been four years since we last played together and we have been training for this match for about two months, so to put in a performance like that was really good.” 

It was a more lively, attacking performance from Cayman on Sunday after the rearguard action required to get a result in Belize. On that occasion, goalkeeper Ramon Sealy was the hero, saving a penalty, and pulling off a string of saves to keep Cayman in contention. 

Renard Moxam, director of Cayman’s national football program, said he was pleased with the effort of the players over the two legs. 

“It was a close game and there is a feeling of disappointment because we didn’t qualify. Myself and the technical staff are pleased with the level of football we played. 

“We were also pleased to see a reconnection between the national team and the public. The crowd was fantastic and really got behind the team.” 

Belize now progress to face the Dominican Republic in the next round of the qualifiers.  

Cayman-v-Belize-8-of-10---2

Cayman pushed for a winner in the second half. – PHOTOS: ASH SANDS

Cayman-v-Belize-9-of-10---2

Mark Ebanks scores his second of the night, but the goal was disallowed.

Cayman-v-Belize-4-of-10---4

Goalscorer Mark Ebanks dribbles through the Belize defense.
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