The Cayman Islands Under-15 national football team returned home from St. Maarten with their heads held high after gaining third place at the Caribbean Football Union U-15 Championships.
This was a hastily arranged, scaled-down tournament, held in Anguilla and St. Maarten after the CONCACAF tournament scheduled to be staged in Cayman was postponed because of the FIFA bribery and corruption allegations.
Cayman came close to reaching the CFU final, losing 1-0 in the semifinals to the Dominican Republic from a hotly disputed penalty. A handball was given against a Cayman player, although the ball came at him fast and seemed to hit him on the shoulder.
In the third-place match, Cayman faced St. Lucia in St. Maarten. It ended 1-1 and there was an enthralling 5-4 penalty shoot-out.
Kareem Foster, Cayman’s top scorer with six in the tournament, got Cayman’s goal against St. Lucia.
Albertini Holness was Cayman’s standout goalkeeper throughout, and he was the day’s hero as he saved the first penalty and scored the deciding spot kick in the shoot-out, which earned him the Man of the Match award.
Curacao were crowned U-15 champions after defeating the Dominican Republic 4-2.
There was a large welcoming party at Owen Roberts International Airport as the side returned on Tuesday, which included sports minister Osbourne Bodden, Cayman Islands Football Association acting president Bruce Blake and director of the Department of Sports Collin Anglin.
Head coach Ernie “Gillie” Seymour was justifiably proud of the team’s performances. They won their three group matches without conceding a goal, scoring 14 in the process.
Seymour said “they made history” because no Cayman Islands youth team had ever gone that far in an international tournament.
Attention to detail was the key for success, Seymour said. A strict diet was maintained throughout, training was concise, they all got plenty of rest and the right hydration.
He fully expects most of the players to graduate to U-17 level next year and for some of them to develop into national senior players eventually. Seymour is modeling their development on how recent World Cup winners like Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil and France have concentrated on perfecting their youth policies and planning for the long-term.
A long rest is deserved for all he said, adding, “I can’t wait for some oxtail from Welly’s or Mango Tree.”
One of the improvements Seymour observed was that Cayman played stronger in the second half than the first, indicating that their concentration and fitness levels have improved significantly.
He was pleased with the contributions of many players, particularly goalkeeper Holness, captain Corey Mellaneo and striker Foster who top scored despite not being 100 percent fit.
“It was a good team performance and the reserves did their part too when they had to,” Seymour said. The squad was made up of 18 players, mostly from Cayman Athletic, Seymour’s club, and Academy Sports Club.
Foster said, “I am very excited because it was my first time playing in front of a big crowd internationally.”
He is a Cayman Athletic player and hopes to become a pro one day. “I want to make it to the highest level to show that a Cayman kid made it,” he said. Does he do all the right things? “Well, sometimes my coaches have to shout at me, but it’s just to make me stronger.”
Manchester United is his favorite team and he models himself on Wayne Rooney “because he inspires me.”