Kareem Foster (No. 8 in red and black) will play an important attacking role for the Cayman Islands in the Under-17 World Cup qualifiers.

An exciting three days of international youth football are on offer this week as Cayman hosts the Caribbean Football Union Under-17 World Cup qualifiers.

Games are scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, Friday, July 22, and Sunday, July 24, at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex. Under the leadership of newly elected president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, Lee Ramoon, the association has worked diligently over the past month to secure the hosting of Group 2 of the qualifiers.

In addition to the Cayman Islands, countries participating in this group are Aruba, Puerto Rico and Haiti.

In the opening games on Wednesday, Puerto Rico plays Haiti at 5 p.m., and the Cayman Islands face Aruba at 7:30 p.m. On Friday, Haiti plays Aruba at 5 p.m., and the Cayman Islands face Puerto Rico at 7:30 p.m. On the final day of competition, Aruba faces Puerto Rico at 5 p.m. and the Cayman Islands play Haiti in the finale at 7:30 p.m.

Winners from Group 2 will join the winners from the other five groups of Caribbean qualifiers along with host country Trinidad and Tobago and the best runner-up in the final round of the CFU Under-17 World Cup qualifiers, scheduled for Sept. 18-25.

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For the teams competing in the final round, five spots will be available for qualification in the CONCACAF Under-17 World Cup Qualifying Tournament in early 2017. The Caribbean’s representatives in the last edition of the CONCACAF tournament were CFU champions Haiti, runners-up Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and St. Lucia.

Four countries from CONCACAF will qualify for the 17th edition of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup Finals to be played in India in September and October 2017. The Cayman Islands team has been preparing for the past five years for opportunities such as this to showcase their talents, and to do so in front of their home crowd is extra special for this group of boys, organizers said.

Neil Murray, coordinator for the Cayman Islands Youth Football Program and the Under-17 National Football Program, said, “We need to change our football culture and we need to do it now. No longer do we want to just participate in these very important international tournaments. We want to compete and set a precedent for our Under-15 and Under-13 national programs so they can ‘raise the bar’ for future youth national teams.”

“This tournament,” he said, “is this present group of boys’ World Cup. The players can take enormous pride in saying that they competed in a FIFA Youth World Cup, whatever the outcome.” In 2015, this group of players placed third out of 12 countries in the CFU Under-15 Boys Caribbean Championships in St. Maarten, marking the first time a youth national team from the Cayman Islands had ever finished in the top three in any competition.

Mr. Murray added, “We are under no illusion that this will be easy; quite the contrary. The three visiting countries are experienced, strong and very talented, but we will not worry about how they play, we must concentrate on playing our game, to our strengths.

“The coaching staff of Ernie Seymour, Ken Downey, Antwan Seymour and Luis Morejon have worked extremely hard to prepare this group, and we will do our best. Can this group make history once again like they did last year? We will see.”

Organizers encourage the community to come out to the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and support the Under-17 National Team in their effort to reach the final round of the CFU Under-17 World Cup qualifiers. To that end, the theme for the Cayman Islands team during the qualifiers is “Support our Nation.”

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