The Cayman Islands men’s national football team is still set to open Group B World Cup qualifying matches by travelling to play Suriname on Wednesday, 24 March. However, the match between Cayman and Canada remains uncertain due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to Cayman Islands Football Association president Alfredo Whittaker.
“There are a couple of scenarios that we are looking into,” said Whittaker. “Our first game would be in Suriname and then because of COVID protocols in the Cayman Islands, it would be impossible for us to receive Canada three days later.”
Cayman is not currently accepting air travel from Canada, meaning the Canadian national players would have to take two separate flights to travel here and then quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
Whittaker says alternatives are being looked at to have games played outside Cayman to avoid any delays.
“At this point we are in conversations with the Canadian national team and with the [United States Soccer Federation] to see the possibilities of [playing] that game… in Florida,” said Whittaker.
Currently Florida does not have any state-wide travel restrictions and quarantine is not mandatory. Whittaker is hoping Florida remains open, otherwise the game against Canada could potentially be in jeopardy.
“Hopefully the quarantine in the US is not imposed where we have to spend another 10 days before playing because that would definitely have to be reviewed and we would have to make a decision on how we are going to [manage] this,” said Whittaker.
With more than 15 team members expected to travel and then quarantine for 14 days when returning, Whittaker says he has to consider the effect of the absence of players on their on employers and is working on the best solution for that issue.
“We need to discuss the situation with players, with employers and see the way going forward,” said Whittaker.
Despite the uncertainties, national head coach Ben Pugh says he is doing his part when it comes to getting his players ready for what could be their biggest test yet.
“There’s obviously some really tough games coming up,” said Pugh. “We are quite fortunate that we were able to train for the last few months. We will be fully prepared and will have a full game plan and clear ideas of how we want to play in those games.”
Pugh went on to highlight several players he has confidence in. “We are strong throughout, especially going forward,” he said. “We got players like Mark [Ebanks] as well and wide players like Trey [Ebanks] and Elijah [Seymour], who is back at the moment [from university].”
“We are fortunate to have some really good goalkeepers as well,” Pugh added. “It’s really nice to have [Ramon] Sealy back and obviously Albertini [Holness] was excellent in the last round of games and we’ve also got David Lee, who has also been training very well.”
Cayman had one of their best performances to date during the 2019 CONCACAF Nations League where they missed promotion to League B on goal differential to Barbados. Pugh says he is looking to top that performance by having Cayman pull off the unexpected.
“Anything can happen in football, not only with national teams, but we’ve seen it in club football as well,” said Pugh. “In the last round of the Nations League games, no one expected us to do anything and obviously we ended up winning four of six games. I think we kind of embrace the underdog mentality and it’s a good opportunity to test ourselves against the best. We just need to stick to the game plan, and we will get the results.”