Cayman Islands Football Association president Alfredo Whittaker says the recent decision to push back regional World Cup qualifying tournaments will benefit Cayman’s men’s national football team.

Cayman’s qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has been pushed back due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We here have no issues but we know the situation that we are living in,” Whittaker told the Cayman Compass. “We wouldn’t have been able to receive or to travel to compete. So, obviously, for us it’s beneficial.”

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) announced Tuesday the first round of qualifying will now be played in March next year.

“Obviously, for us it’s beneficial”

Cayman originally was scheduled to open qualifying on 7 Oct. playing in Suriname and then host Canada on 11 Oct. Restrictions on incoming travel, as well as quarantine and isolation requirements for incoming travellers, would have complicated the matter, as would have local regulations aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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“By hosting Canada, our first (home) opponent with only 250 spectators allowed at this time… would be a big loss because we have the potential to fill the stadium and have a really enjoyable evening of football,” Whittaker said.

After hosting Group B favourite Canada, Cayman was scheduled to host Aruba and then wrap up the first round of qualifying in Bermuda.

“Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision,” according to a press release from CONCACAF. “Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult.”

The decision to postpone the matches came after CONCACAF held discussions with member associations, FIFA and other stakeholders, the region’s football governing body said. Whittaker says he believes playing in March is realistic.

“I would expect that we could play in March,” Whittaker said. “We know that teams like Canada and the US, they travel via charter [flights]. So, with the government and the Canadian authorities… we could coordinate the arrival of the Canadians into Cayman. I think we should be able to do testing like what they are doing on a daily basis.”

Whittaker did express concern that players may be required to quarantine for two weeks after playing in Suriname.

Cayman is ranked No. 193rd in the most recent FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Canada ranks 73rd, Suriname 141st, Barbados 162nd and Aruba 200th.

The footballers’ conditioning is where it needs to be, Whittaker said, adding that players have continued to work out throughout the pandemic.

“Our national team has been training for the past 12 weeks,” Whittaker said. “Throughout the pandemic they had training that was prepared for them to do individual training via YouTube and through group chats that we have.”

Cayman has the distinction of having gone undefeated in its last three World Cup qualifying matches without recording a win. That includes a 1-1 draw against the Dominican Republic to close out group play in 2014 World Cup qualifying, as well as a pair of draws against Belize in 2018 qualifying.

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