May 24, 2015 Sports
By Santokie Nagulendran
When the World Cup qualifying draw was made for the CONCACAF region in January, Guyana fancied their chances of progression when paired up against St Vincent and the Grenadines. On paper, St Vincent should be
the favourites: they are ranked 110thin comparison to Guyana’s FIFA ranking of 163, and won the recent 2015 Windward Islands Tournament in emphatic fashion. However, Guyana, aka the Golden Jaguars have built a team this year which is capable of dominating the region and they feel just as confident of progression. The tie, to take place on June 10th and 14th respectively, should prove to be captivating battles between two in-form nations.
St Vincent, coached by Cornelius Huggins, have completed a remarkable transformation in recent years. In 2013, they finished rock bottom in the year’s edition of the Windward Islands Tournament, an annual competition which also features St Lucia, Grenada and Dominica. However, over the past year, the team, utilising young talent, has been in fine form, recording victories over Dominican Republic and Curacao in Caribbean Cup qualifiers last year. This year, in the 2015 Windward Islands Tournament, they won all three of their games, playing a 4-1-4-1 with young striker Myron Samuel operating as a lone striker, bagging 4 goals in the process. In short, they are a team in-form, and will pose a very serious challenge to the Golden Jaguar’s hopes of progressing to the next round of World Cup qualifiers in August.
Oalex Anderson, who currently plays professionally in USA, is the team’s stand out star, and along with Myron Samuel, could cause havoc against a Guyanese side which does not display the most confidence defensively.
After letting a two-goal lead slip against Barbados in February, Golden Jaguar’s Coach Jamaal Shabazz highlighted the need for the team to develop fitness in order to prevent such a result happening again. In the following two games against St Lucia and Grenada, Guyana managed to keep two clean sheets, suggesting improvements are being made to the team’s defensive capabilities and fitness.
With players from St Vincent being afforded the luxury of playing frequent International games over the past year, their fitness levels and experience of working as a team will be vastly superior to that of the Golden Jaguars, with the majority of domestic-based Guyanese players having been denied regular competition in recent times. This was most evident last month, when a Guyanese squad made up of domestic-based players lost 1-0 in a friendly game to Suriname, the National Team’s first loss of the year; although the vast majority of the game was played with 10-men after Golden Jaguar Clive Nobrega was sent off after 12 minutes.
Ultimately however, the loss reveals the extent to which domestic-based players need to play regular competition in order to develop, whilst the loss, which played out in Suriname, may also have revealed that Guyana could struggle in away games played outside of Guyana’s Providence stadium. As of writing, Guyana have arranged no more International friendlies in the build-up to this Qualifier, and as such, their players could lack the sharpness which is so fundamental to football at an international level.
However, the Golden Jaguars do still have a distinct advantage, which may be enough to completely swing the tie in their favour: overseas-based players from Europe. Whereas virtually all the St Vincent squad play their club football in the Caribbean, Guyana has players with vast experience of featuring in European Leagues and also the MLS in America. Matthew Briggs and Neil Danns famously committed to the National side in March, and made an immediate impact in the side. They will be supported by Trayon Bobb, Walter Moore and team captain Christopher Nurse, who are all currently playing overseas either in Europe and America, and thereby take part in high quality competition on a weekly basis.
Based on recent results, it is hard to predict a winner: both sides have comfortably beaten St Lucia and Grenada this year, and both sides play an attack-minded brand of football, so it will be a game where goals feature in abundance. With Guyanese striker Sheldon Holder showing a knack for goals so far in his International career, and Pernell Schultz scoring twice on his debut vs Grenada, the Golden Jaguars will need to breach a St Vincent defence which is highly organised.
The stakes are high, both teams will be optimistic of making the next round draw, which will be held in July, and more importantly, a chance to preserve the dream, however distant it may be, of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The lack of friendlies and competitive games in the Caribbean region means that for the team that loses, there may not be any more games for months and the chance to develop a programme will be massively hindered. This is a game neither team can afford to lose and that’s why it will be an utterly captivating contest.
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