A quick look at the Caribbean region and the Caribbean Cup 2009 Jamaica. The Caribbean region is made up of 25 FIFA members and 5 territories. The Caribbean Cup began in 1989 and is a biannual tournament. The top 4 team make CONCACAF’s Gold Cup. This seems a bit unfair compared to the other 2 regions that make up CONCACAF. The Central American region (UNCAF) places 5 out of 7 countries and The North American Football Union (NAFU) automatically qualifies all 3 nations (USA, Mexico and Canada). This years Caribbean Cup was again sponsored by Digicel which provides financing for the tournament. I want to express my disappointment Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic did not enter this tournament.
These nations both have huge populations and would have made the tournament that much more interesting. Puerto Rico has about 4 Million inhabitants and just started a domestic league this year. This would have been a great opportunity to create a scense of nationalism on the island to back their national team. Dominican Rep has over 9 Million wich is more than 6 of the 7 Central American countries. (Only Guatemala has a bigger populous.) It is just a shame that the fans of these nations did not have a team to cheer for. Group stage Two was staged in 3 locations. Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Cuba. As we all know there is a huge advantage of playing on your home pitch and the home crowd was not disappointed. All hosting teams can out on top in their group. A quick look at the Stage two:
Group F was played in Guadeloupe. The games were played in Stade René Serge Nabajoth stadium. The capacity is 7,500 and an average of 4,000 turned out for the 3 matches that involved Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe had by far the best fan support on Stage 2. The Gwada boys like to go on offense and score they did. They blasted 7 goals past the Cayman Island (7-1). Then they came from behind to beat Grenada 2-1. This set up the final match with their local French department rival Martinique. Guadeloupe again came from behind to beat Martinique 3-1. This score turn out to knock a solid Martinique team out of the Finals. The pivotal game for both Grenada and Martinique was the game against each other. This game turned into a 2-2 tie. Then both Grenada and Martinique ended tied with 4 points apiece. The next tie breaker was goal differential where Grenada was +1 and Martinique was -1. Grenada squeaked through by scoring more goals than Martinique. Martinique had made the Gold Cup 3 times previously but it was not in the cards this year. Grenada was the team from this tough group to make it through. They proved to be a very sound team. The Cayman Islands did not win a game but they played a lot better against Grenada and Martinique.
Group G was hosted in Havana Cuba. Cuba took advantage of their home field by getting 7 points to win the group. The Cubans also scored the most goals of any stage two team with 14 goals for. The fans support however was very poor. There was only an average of 1,000 supporters turn out to see their national team play. I guess they were more interested in the World Cup qualifying which was the same month. Barbados and Suriname battled for second place in this tight group. The Bajans of Barbados posted a 3-2 victory over upstart Suriname to earn a total of 7 points. Suriname like Cuba was participating in World Cup qualifying this month so the Caribbean Cup was of lesser importance. They sure disappointed their fans back at home. Many in Suriname believe they would have made the final 8 and a chance to play in the Gold Cup in 2009. They did tie Guyana in Guyana in earlier matches but could never recover from the 3-2 defeat to Barbados. Netherlands Antilles lost their opener 7-1 to host Cuba and could not recover. The played a lot better against Barbados and Suriname but did not win a game.
Group H: Surprise, surprise Trinidad and Tobago are hosting another soccer event. This turned out to be the most competitive group with 4 quality teams battling for just 2 spots. No one team dominated. Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua & Barbuda got the edge here. There was a very poor showing of about 1,000 fans at each game like Cuba. We were all expecting the Jaguars of Guyana to advance here. They were on a 14 game winning streak starting between 2005 and 2006 which drove them 96 places up the World ranking. Guyana only tied St Kitts in their opening match. Then lost a stunner 2-1 to Antigua and Barbuda, in the 78 minute, to a strike by Christian. This was Guyana’s only loss but they needed a win to advance. Guyana did tie Trinidad however the game did not matter, 2 teams were already through. St Kitts & Nevis stayed competitive but did not advance in this difficult group.
The Fianl Round had host Jamaica and the reigning Caribbean Champion Haiti join the top 2 winners of Stage Two. The groups were:
Group I Cuba, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Antigua & Barduda
Group J Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad & Togabo and Barbados
Group I was the most intriguing at the start. 3 teams had made the Gold Cup in 2007 and only 2 would go through this year. No team in group I had a home field advantage, so one team dominated. Cuba looked good since they were scoring and they won this group. The reigning Champion Haiti was not as sharp since they were not participating in the previous rounds. Both Haiti and Guadeloupe ended with idential records at 1-1-1. The goal differential also was identical at 0. Guadeloupe got through since they scored more goals. Guadelouope also beat Haiti 2-1 earlier in group play so it was only fitting they would make the semi-finals. Haiti only victory came against Cuba after Cuba was through on the last group game. Haiti does not have a domectic league but have loads of talent. It will be to bad Haiti and their passionate fans base in Miami can not participate in the next Gold Cup.
Group J had the regional power hosting so it was a matter of who would come in second place. The key game was between Grenada and Trinidad which was the first game played. Grenada posted a 2-1 victory over the Soca Warriors which turn out to be their downfall. The game was tied in the 70 minute by Trinidad’s Leo. However at the 90 minute Charles of Grendada scored the winner to propel Grenada to the knock out round and their first Gold Cup. Trinidad did tie Jamaica but Jamaica was already through and the game did not matter to the Reggae Boyz.
The knock out round had Cuba tie Grenada 2-2 go to a shoot out. Grenada prevailed with a 5-6 margin. Jamaica took care of business with a 2-0 victory over Guadeloupe in the other semi-finals. The final was a rematch of group play between Jamaica and Grenada which Jamaica won handily 4-0. There was a penalty in each half which resulted in goals for Jamaice. Shelton scored both times for Jamaica. It is always good to play host in tight game. Sometimes you can get a call or two.
Jamaica was the favorite going into the tournament since they would be playing on their home pitch. They reestablished themselves as one of the top regional powers in the Caribbean Cup and in World Cup qualifying. Grenada turned out to be giant killer’s edging past a quality Martinique team then getting by both Trinidad and Barbados in the Final round. Cuba continues to be a power in the Caribbean. Cuba overwhelmed Netherlands Antilles 7-1, pounded Suriname 6-0 and Tied Barbados 1-1 in Stage 2. Then they beat Guadeloupe 2-1, blanked Antigua and Barbuda 3-0 before losing to reigning Champion Haiti 1-0 when the game did not matter to them. Their only other loss was a shoot loss in the semi finals to Grenada. Guadeloupe continues to impress with it strong tactical form on the pitch and continued wins.
Trinidad & Tobago surprisingly did not make the knockout round and there fore will not particapate in the CONCACAF’s Gold Cup 2009. Warner can not be pleased with his direct ties to the national team. The reigning Champions Haiti disappointed their faithful and only played 3 games in this tournament. Antigua and Barbuda surprised everyone to make it to the Finals. They were led by the scoring duo of Peter Byers of the Montreal Impact and Jamie Thomas with 6 goals apiece. Barbados did make it to the Final 8 but did not win a game against the Caribbean’s elite. It is good to see other teams challenge perennial Caribbean power Trinidad & Tobago. They have won 8 Caribbean Cups but they have also hosted that many Finals. Jamaica now has 4 Titles, Trinidad has 8, and both Haiti and little Martinique have 1 apiece. There is no word on who will host the next Caribbean Cup but Puerto Rico may make a strong push. They now have the stadium and domestic league that has created interest. The Dominican Rep has to jumpstart the marketing for the sport. Guyana has recently opened their National stadium. The sport in growing and thanks to Digicel sponsorship it will continue to do so.