CONCACAF Under-15 Championships round-up

| 30/08/2013

(CNS): The Under-15 championships provided a lot of tightly contested matches as well as some staggering landslides but the quality of Caribbean football is on the rise, especially from the smaller nations such as Bermuda, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Aruba, and our very own Cayman. The bigger countries that were expected to do well competing for the crown showed quality that many in Cayman have not seen for a long time. Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Haiti have all showed why they are the top countries in the CONCACAF region.

In Group A, Bermuda and Cayman were considered favourites by many to top the group, with Cayman coming out with emphatic 12-0 and 8-0 victories over St Maarten and US Virgin Islands respectively. 

Aruba and Bahamas tried to make life as difficult as possible for Bermuda and Cayman, but both teams came through all games with considerable ease. Aruba finished 3rd in the group, followed by Bahamas, US Virgin Islands and St Maarten. They were many who saw Cayman as a real goal threat and believed they could go on to win the Group.

It was not to be, though, as Cayman lost their third game of the tournament 3-0 to Bermuda. However, the Cayman National Team can hold their heads high, winning 4 out of their 5 group games and drawing 2-2 in a friendly game in Cayman Brac on Saturday against a strong Belize side that beat rivals Jamaica 3-1 earlier in the tournament. Cayman can also boast about being the highest goal scorers of the tournament, with 27 goals in 5 games, as well as having the tournament’s top goal scorer, Leighton Thomas Jr, with 11 goals. Thomas scored 5 goals against St Maarten, 3 goals against US Virgin Islands and 3 goals in their final game of the group against Aruba to ensure they finished 2nd place.

Group B and Group C were one team less than Group A & D, but the competition in each group was still immense and deeply contested. Group B and D were definitely considered the groups of death in the tournament, with a number of potential teams vying to win the groups and entering the semi-finals.

Group B had Guatemala, Belize and Jamaica. All considered themselves favourites coming into the tournament. Jamaica won their opening two games 4-0 against Grenada and 2-0 in the following match against St Lucia. The first big test of the group came when Belize played Jamaica. Jamaica, being the second best supported team at the tournament, was defeated 3-1 by Belize in front of a pro Jamaican crowd with the green, yellow and black colours very apparent in the tournament from the fans. Guatemala then defeated Belize 2 days later by a goal to nil. Any chance of Belize or Jamaica going through was dashed when Guatemala beat Jamaica by a 1-0 score line to top the group. Grenada finished 4th with their only win coming against St Lucia. One of the most entertaining groups of the tournament surely didn’t disappoint, with some of the most contested battles of the tournament on show. Guatemala’s Jose Manuel Funes will surely be pleased by his teams’ results and they will be flying high with confidence after coming out of a tough group with 4 wins out of 4.

Group C saw Honduras in action; another popular team in Cayman due to the large Honduran population on island. They blew the competition away, playing some of the best football seen at the tournament so far. Their vision and skill was sometimes mesmerizing. Going forward they looked like they could score at will and were definitely seen as a team to be feared by all in the competition. Anything less than a 5-0 defeat seemed unacceptable for Honduras. Their defence was water tight as they went through the group phase without a goal conceded.

Players like Darixon Vuelto and Italo Ramos proved too much quality for the others in the group. Guadeloupe was the only team in the group to put up a fight and did not suffer such a heavy loss from Honduras, 2-0. Guadeloupe over the last few years has shown they are a growing football nation and this tournament showcased their qualities. They finished runners up winning all their other games against St Kitts, Saint Martin (not to get confused with St Maarten) and Curacao. Who also finished in their group in that order respectively.

The final Group, Group D saw top contenders El Salvador, Haiti, Martinique and Puerto Rico pitted against each other, which weresure to be closely contested. This was a topsy turvy group where anything could happen and anyone of the top four teams mentioned could advance. Antigua & Barbuda and Saint Vincent were out of their depth in this group and struggled to keep their head above water. El Salvador easily despatched Antigua 3-0 in the first game, soon after Puerto Rico oversaw a closelywon 2-1 battle with Martinique.

Antigua & Barbuda got their only win of the tournament, a 2-1 victory over St Vincent. The biggest shock of the tournament came when Martinique picked themselves up from their earlier defeat to inflict a 4-0 drumming of Haiti, who were hugely disappointed with themselves after the game. El Salvador came away with a most deserved 3-1 win over Puerto Rico. Haiti started coming into their own a little better when they got the ball into the old onion bag 5 times against Antigua & Barbuda.

Martinique and El Salvador played the most closely fought match in the group to a 1-1 draw next, followed by Puerto Rico thrashing Saint Vincent 6-0. Haiti defeated Saint Vincent in the next round of matches in the group, 2-0. Haiti continued their hot streak winning 1-0 against Puerto Rico. Martinique defeated Antigua & Barbuda by a 2-0 score line and El Salvador conjured a 4-1 victory over Saint Vincent. In the final round of games, El Salvador needed just a draw to progress on to the last four while Haiti needed to defeat El Salvador to have any hopes of reaching the next round.

The match ended in a closely fought draw and El Salvador progressed to the knockout stages of the tournament. Martinique finished runners up with a 7-0 mauling over Saint Vincent and the final group game saw Puerto Rico crush Antigua and Barbuda 5-0. El Salvador showed what few teams had; a second gear. Only Honduras and Guatemala had that second gear that set them apart from their group rivals. They were hungry and set the tone of play with quick 1, 2’s and possession throughout the tournament. El Salvador’s Head Coach, Agustin Castillo was visibly pleased with his team’s results at the semi-finals press conference and was thankful for a fantastic tournament being held so far.

The Semi-Final round of the tournament saw Bermuda vs. Guatemala and Honduras vs. El Salvador. The first Semi-Final saw both teams played the full 70 minutes plus extra time before they went to penalties. Bermuda’s discipline and tactics is what got them through the game, exceptional discipline for some boys who were 13, 14 and 15 years old. They took a shock lead 15 minutes before halftime, through Jordan Lambe. However, Guatemala found themselves right back in it 3 minutes after the break, through their forward, Cifuentes, who scored in his fifth consecutive match in the competition. Both battled for the reminder of the game to take it to penalties.

Osagi Bascome one of the best players in the tournament and nephew of Coach Bascome converted the first penalty kick for Bermuda, followed by Lambe. Guatemala also converted their first 2, through Yanes, and goal scorer Cifuentes. Forward Lewis and Lowe of Bermuda could not convert their penalties as it was left to Raymundo and Mario Rodas to drive home the winning penalty that sent Guatemala into the finals.

In the other Semi, Central American rivals Honduras played El Salvador. These two will have known a lot about each other coming into this game and the intensity was shown right away with El Salvador seeing 4 yellow cards in the opening 30 minutes; 3 in a 3 minute span. It was obvious that El Salvador were drawing fouls to slow Honduras’ play down; Darixon Vuelto found himself into the book for Honduras as well, who cutted a frustrated figure. Possession was little for Honduras, always making 3 or 4 passes and hitting it long in hopes of benefiting from a 50/50 ball.

After halftime though, things changed. The game began to open up and it took all but 2 minutes for Honduras to break the deadlock through second half substitute, Italo Ramos, one of the stars of the tournament so far and hopefully for years to come for Honduras. The game began to change and momentum swung in Honduras’ favour, however, against the run of play, El Salvador equalized through midfielder Melendez, which sank the pro Honduras crowd back into their seats after watching their team concede their first goal of the tournament. The momentum El Salvador had, lasted all but 2 minutes before Honduras were back in business. Again, Ramos converted from a quick break to put Honduras back into the lead. The Honduras players worked hard to keep their team in front and when the final whistle came, they were reward with a berth in the final.

Bermuda and El Salvador met for third place medal Sunday and the Guatemala-Honduras finale took place, two hours later. Both games being shown at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex venue.

In the 3rd place match Bermuda squared off against El Salvador. Bermuda would get a second taste of some Central American football and perhaps they bite of a little more than they could handle. With both teams deadlocked after the 1st half. El Salvador quickly enforced their dominance and quick incision passing to break down a discipline Bermuda defense. With 2 goals coming in the second half of play. Henry Turicos got on the score sheet early in the second half of play in the 41st minute. Bermuda tried their best to fight their way back into the game as Bascome tried his best to push his troops forward for the equalizing goal, but it was not to be as El Salvador scored again through a clever finish by Kevin Martinez in the 65th minute. With 5 minutes remaining in the game, El Salvador proved too much for the Bermudians. It was the first match in which Bermuda didn’t score a goal. El Salvador would have rather been in the final against Guatemala, but they will be happy the way things turned out in the tournament and will be proud to be second runners up.

In the final climax of the tournament the top two teams Honduras and Guatemala faced off in very exciting match that some incredible football being displayed in first half of play as both sides  played possession football and took their time to build up each play. Somehow you couldn’t dream that 13, 14 years olds displayed this kind of understanding of the game. String passes and movements that most top professional athletes would be proud of. They were both very methodical in how they approach the game and you could see this was truly a final of an international tournament.

It didn’t take long Honduras to settle in. Winning a penalty in the fifth minute of play, Darixon Vuelto neatly put away his 6th goal of the tournament. Honduras fans almost made that atmosphere seem as if they were the home side as they roared they’re team on. 20 minutes later Guatemala had an answer for the Honduras fans, as Mario Rodas, who also scored the winning penalty in the Semi-Final match against Bermuda, scored, this time in real time for a great build up play in the 24th minute. Both teams played end to end football as each team looked to push for the goal that would bring them glory.

That goal was to be for Honduras as Man of the Match Darixon Vuelto got on the end of a cross in the 52nd minute to volley home Honduras’ second goal of the match. The Honduras fans were all on their feet now stomping and scream, “Honduras! Honduras! Honduras!” as they help carry their team towards the finish line. Honduras looked like they had another penalty, but the referee decided it was outside of the area. Guatemala managed to give Honduras one more late scare in the match when a low drive from the right side of the goal mouth was well saved by Wilmer Martinez. The final minutes were up and the Honduras fans cheered in rich jubilation as they watch for the first time their country lift the coveted Concacaf U-15 Championship.

The runners up Guatemala were visibly distraught after the final whistle, with some players with hands to head in tears. They had beaten themselves, with some sloppy defending to give away the game’s first goal and were always chasing the game. Great work and attitude must be given for both sets of players as each player pushed until the last whistle.

Individual awards were given to Bermuda for the Fair Play Award, which was collected by CaptainOmar Lewis. Golden Glove for the best goalkeepers was given to the safe pair of hands Wilmer Martinez, who only concede twice throughout the tournament. The Golden Ball Award was given to the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, Darixon Vuelto, who also received the Man of the Match award. The final award the Golden Boot Award, was awarded for the tournament’s Top Goal Scorer, Cayman’s Leighton Thomas Jr.

Medals were given next to the 3rd place team El Salvador and to 2nd place Guatemala, before 1st place medals and the U-15 Championship was awarded to Honduras. 

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Cayman must be realistic that this was at best an OK performance, but on home turf the final report card realistically reads "Should have done better".  Failing to come anywhere close to Bermuda was the most important lesson for the team. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can we find other micro-states to beat up?

    • Anonymous says:

      So the USVI with a population of 106,405, and Aruba with a population of 107,000, count as a "micro-states" as compared to Cayman? Actually, Cayman was a micro-state as compared to most other countries represented in the tournament.  

      Typical expat put-down for Cayman.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nice summary. Thanks Michael!