Cayman’s dream run to the top of the CONCACAF Nations League table ended Tuesday night, when Barbados defended its home turf and earned a 3-0 victory to win the group.
Both Cayman and Barbados finished with four wins and 12 points, but goal differential turned out to be the decisive statistic. Barbados was +10 over the course of six games despite losing 3-2 to Cayman back in September. Cayman, meanwhile, finished the six games at a -1 differential.
“I’m very, very pleased with how we’ve done across the six games,” said national team coach Ben Pugh. “Of course, we’re very disappointed not to have qualified and to miss out … on goal difference. But we’re really pleased with how the players stood up against some really good competition.”
Cayman hadn’t won a game in nine years before competing in CONCACAF Nations League C, and it managed a win against each of its Group A opponents. Cayman beat the US Virgin Islands twice – both at home and on the road – and split the two-game series against Barbados and Saint Martin.
Perhaps most impressively, Cayman won all three of its games at Truman Bodden Sports Complex, and Pugh is pleased with the progress he’s seen from his players on the biggest stage available.
“There were lots of positives that came out of this,” he said. “It’s obviously a very young squad, generally. We only have two or three players over the age of 24. It sets us in good stead. We can continue to build in the future and do really good things. When it comes around next time to the qualifying – which I think starts in September – we’ll be in a good place to look to qualify again.”
Barbados carried 64% of the possession on Tuesday night and had twice as many correct passes (358) as Cayman (178). Barbados had nine shots to Cayman’s three, and Hallam Hope – who played for Carlisle United in England’s League Two last season – scored twice to give the Bajans an edge.
Pugh said Hope’s first goal in the 32nd minute changed the complexion of the game.
“Unfortunately, we conceded just after 30 minutes, which caused us big problems,” he said. “Our game is largely built on our defensive shape and counterattacking. We had to push forward for a goal and the longer the game went on, we were always going to be more susceptible to conceding.”
Barbados represented a stern physical challenge for Cayman because 10 of its 11 starting players were over 6-foot-tall, said Pugh. The Cayman players were at a disadvantage both physically and in terms of playing experience, but Pugh said it will be good for them in the long run.
“They deserved to win the game,” he said of Barbados. “They’ve got four or five very, very good players that play at a professional level. At the moment, we don’t have any in the squad. I feel like we should; there are a few of our players that can definitely play at a higher level. Hopefully these games have given them the platform for maybe people to see them and see what they can do.”