The minutes kept ticking and the home team’s situation seemed dire.
But Cayman would not be denied.
Clara Byrne came through with a climactic goal late on Monday night to help Cayman to a 1‑1 draw against Barbados in its opening game at the Caribbean Football Union’s Girls’ U-14 Challenge.
Cayman had trailed since the 17th minute of the first half, and despite pushing the action in the second half, it had rarely had a shot on goal. But then, with minutes until the final whistle, Barbados goalie Lisa Harding bobbled a high shot and Byrne stepped in to bury the rebound into the net.
“At the end, I think we were really pushing to get a goal,” said Byrne, who had entered the game as a second half substitute about 15 minutes before scoring. “I was excited but quite nervous as well.”
Cayman and Barbados both exited the first day of the three-game tournament with a point and a 0 in goal differential, as did St. Lucia and Curacao, who played to a 1‑1 draw earlier in the evening.
Barbados carried the early action and went ahead on a goal by midfielder Keidasha Thomas, who found herself in space and then finished with a top corner shot over the arms of goalie Isla McLaughlin.
“I was nervous,” said Thomas. “I didn’t know I was going to score a goal but I tried my best and I did it.”
Barbados celebrated in the moment and held Cayman at bay for much of the first half. Barbados used five substitutes in the second half, and coach Richard Forde said he was pleased with the way his players had handled being the road team in an international tournament.
“We made one error and it caused a goal,” said Forde after the game. “The average age of [our] team is 12 years old. That’s what I’m most proud of, not the result. … I think we were up against a very good team. They kept the ball well. Our weapon was the centre forward. She kept them off us all the time.”
Cayman came out recharged after half-time and had a few chances on goal in the second half.
The home team started working the ball out wide and sprinting past the Barbados defenders, but they still had trouble getting the ball into the box for clear angles on goal. The game was getting into the last moments when Cayman captain Alexia Bromfield lofted a high shot towards the goal. Harding caught it square and then released the ball onto the ground in front of her.
“Lexi put in a really good shot,” said Byrne of the sequence that led to her timely goal in the second half. “The keeper fumbled the ball and I was just on the right side of it. I tapped it in.”
Cayman will play Curacao on Wednesday night and St. Lucia on Friday night, and Barbados will play against St. Lucia on Wednesday and then Curacao in the Friday finale.
Harry Varley, Cayman’s assistant coach of the U-14 girls, said that he was pleased with the way the team responded to early adversity and came back to secure a favourable result.
“A lot of what we talked about at half-time was just settling it down, playing their game and keeping strong,” he said. “We’re really proud of them. We thought they did a great job mentally.”
Varley said he was happy with the way Cayman moved the ball and that they can be very effective if they improve in the final third of the field. He was not necessarily happy to earn a draw, he said, but he felt that Cayman had played well enough to win against a very difficult adversary.
“That was probably the strongest opponent,” he said. “I think we were quite impressed with Barbados. We want to get on the front foot in the next games and take that solid start. Two wins to finish us off.”