Friday, 08 June 2012 10:20
By Colin James
Antigua St John's - A torrential downpour forced Antigua and Barbuda to move their last full practice session yesterday (Thursday) from the Raymond James stadium in Tampa, FL to an indoor basketball facility.
The plane bringing Prime Minister Baldwin to watch his countrymen take on the mighty United States was delayed about 24 hours. The FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying match kicks off at 7.00 pm on Friday.
PM Spencer, Opposition MP Asot Michael, Ambassadors Ian Sweeney and McChesney Emanuel are among some the dignitaries who are here to give support to the Benna Boys. The national team face arguably their biggest test today in the first round of matches at the semi-final stage of the CONCACAF qualifying series.
The country’s leader will attend a reception at the Tampa Museum of Art on Friday morning before attending other business engagements. A delegation from the Antigua & Barbuda Investment Authority (ABIA) is in Florida, in an effort to drum up economic spin-offs to aid the ailing economy back home.
Ambassador Sweeney, who is based in Miami, and Emmanuel, who is the interim chair of ABIA, are expected to feature prominently in the discussions.
Everton Gonsalves, president of the Antigua Barbuda Football Association, and general secretary Gordon Derrick, the newly-minted president of the Caribbean Football Union, are also present and quietly optimistic that the national team will make the country proud.
An electronic advert at the world-class Tampa International airport, posted by the City of Tampa, heralded the PM’s arrival. Tampa is hosting its first international football or soccer game for some time.
However, that welcoming sign was in stark contrast to the apparent lack of media coverage for the match, as the Benna Boys go in search of a miracle against Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA. The Americans are the overwhelming favourites, with stars such as London Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
Neither the Miami Herald nor USA Today the two international dailies carried much if anything about the game in their Thursday editions. There was minimal coverage if any at all in the local Tampa Bay dailies.
This reporter met a local cameraman from the Tampa Fox Sports affiliate and he too wondered why the media has been so low-key.
While the Americans will enjoy home advantage in every aspect, the Antiguan and Barbudan support will not be insignificant. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Benna Boys fans from across the US including Miami, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Boston and from nearby Canada will descend in their droves to find out if David can slay Goliath again.
A miracle is possible, I hear you say.
“Playing the U.S., it’s certainly a different level,” said Tom Curtis, the Scotland-born coach who has been coaching the national team and the Antigua Barracuda for the past 18 months. “We hope to compete and do ourselves justice.”
The players spent the last two weeks at the high-performance centre at Sarasota, 45 minutes drive from Tampa, and after a light session Friday morning will journey to the stadium at least three hours before kick-off at 7pm.
They did manage to get on the outfield yesterday before the weather intervened but they were not overly perturbed by the washout. However, all are mindful that it could rain today as well.
Antigua and Barbuda’s FIFA ranking reached its highest level, 83rd in the world, last November when they defeated Haiti 1-0 at home to become the surprise qualifiers from their quarter-final round. The Benna Boys are now currently ranked No. 105.
With the inclusion of seven England-based players dubbed the Benna Brits Curtis is looking for more upsets.
“It’s been a big success story,” Curtis said, “but now it’s a big, big step up.”
“We carry the hopes of all the small islands in our region St. Kitts, St. Lucia, the whole Leeward Islands,” captain George Dublin said. “We have this opportunity to shine and show the world that Antigua has some good footballers and we can get to the world stage. It is a precious situation for us.”
Squad: Goalkeepers: Molvin James (23), Keita de Castro (30), Olson Forde ( ); Defenders: George Dublin (Captain) (35), Marc Joseph (35), Marvin McCoy (23), (21) Karanja Mack (24), Ranjae Christian (34), Luke Blakely (23), Troy Dublin (20), Akeem Thomas (22), Midfielders: Mikele Leigertwood (29), Keiran Murtagh (23), Justin Cochrane (30), Josh Parker, Quinton Griffith, (20), Tamarley Thomas (28), Lawson Robinson (25), Kemoi Alexander (26); Forwards: Peter Byers (27), Randolph Burton (25), Kerry Skepple (31), Stefan Smith (22), Dexter Blackstock (25), Lloyd Jeremy