Florida Showdown as Barbados, Bermuda Begin Battle for Group Stage Spot

Bermuda’s United States-based winger Zeiko Lewis. Photo: CMC

Barbados and Bermuda camps have expressed confidence heading into Friday night’s preliminary-round fixture, of taking a step closer to qualifying for a place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup – the Tridents for the first time and the Gombey Warriors for the second.

Both countries have strengthened their squads ahead of the game at the DRV PNK Stadium here with Bristol City striker Nahki Wells returning to national duty after more than a year’s absence to captain Bermuda, while Rashad Jules, the Barbados skipper, returns to action after sitting out a recent trip to the Dominican Republic with an injured ankle.

Friday night’s winners will go on to meet Haiti or St Vincent and the Grenadines for a place in the Gold Cup group stage proper which gets underway July 10.

Friday’s contest is one of three in the 12-team qualification tournament which runs from July 2-6, with the remaining three opening-round qualifiers set for Saturday.

The tournament will determine the last three spots in the Gold Cup group stage, with the likes of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines also featuring in the qualifiers.

With no room for error, Bermuda national coach Kyle Lightbourne expressed delight about being able to welcome back a host of frontline players of his own in addition to Wells, with former captain Danté Leverock, Reggie Lambe, Justin Donawa and Jonté Smith bolstering the squad.

Woking striker Smith’s last international appearance was against Jamaica in a friendly in Montego Bay in March 2020.

Also among the players rejoining the national set-up are US-based winger Zeiko Lewis, Jaylon Bather, Calon Minors and Watford striker Kane Crichlow, making this a much changed squad from the one that recently limped out of the World Cup.

Smith travelled as part of the squad for the qualifiers, but an injury ruled him out of consideration.

While confident about securing a result, Lightbourne said he was well aware of the threat posed by  opponents his side have failed to beat in their previous two meetings, and who are also six places higher in the FIFA world rankings.

“We have to go all out and make sure we leave everything out there on the field,” said Lightbourne, whose team competed in the 2019 Gold Cup.

“From my point of view, we have to be in a position to want the game more than Barbados. The biggest threat I’d say about Barbados is that they have a lot of heart.

“They are always prepared to stay in games and dig in and so we have to be aware of that. We know they will be prepared to do the hard work and so we have to expect that.

“It’s knockout football and so we have to give everything and not hold anything back. Right now we can’t be thinking about who we might play next; this is the only fixture we have to focus on, the only one.”

He added: “We know they have brought in a number of players with overseas experience, particularly up front, and that is something else we have to be prepared for.

“However, we watched them and have a strong idea of what to expect going into the match. From my standpoint, if we do what we should and get it right, we should be fine. We just have to execute what we want from our game plan.”

Lightbourne’s opposite number, Russell Latapy, has seen his squad strengthened by the inclusion Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Nick Blackman, Redditch United’s winger Curtis Hutson, and Holland-based FC Den Bosch Dwayne Green.

Also back in the squad are Green’s clubmate Ryan Trotman, Oldham Athletic’s Hallam Hope, and Boreham Wood’s Krystian Pearce.

Echoing Latapy’s catchphrase of “trust the process”, Jules said Friday’s game provided the perfect opportunity to be recognised both as a nation and also to showcase Barbados’ ability.

CMC

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