Rankings be damned!
The United States Virgin Islands entered the National Stadium as the underdogs last night and just under two hours later when they left, they had beaten hosts Barbados 1-0 in the first round encounter of their 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Barbados are ranked 131 on FIFA’s list of footballing nations with the USVI at 197. But no one seemingly told that to either team last night as it counted for nothing.
USVI midfielder Jamie Browne was the man of the night when he scored the lone goal of the game for his team in the 16th minute.
The match-up which was described as difficult by the management for both teams was one which saw many golden opportunities go a-begging especially on the Barbados end.
Five minutes or fewer into the game and Barbados should have been one-nil up when Barbadian defender Hadan Holligan was brought down inside the box by USVI captain Dusty Good and a penalty was awarded. Barbados Captain Mario Harte stepped up to take the shot but it was saved by USVI goalkeeper Erik Mozzo who dived to his right and held on to the ball.
The groan of disappointment from spectators echoed around the stadium, including from Harte. But he would go goal-hunting again and on one incisive foray into enemy territory he ran the ball down the right flank, dribbled his way past two USVI defenders and took a shot at goal but was again denied by the safe hands of Mozzo.
It seemed after those two threatening moves Barbados’ defenders and perhaps the entire team lost focus. This allowed Browne to wake them up when the ball was played up the right flank to him and with swift movement and accuracy, he shifted the ball past Barbados’ defender Ranaldo Bailey, ran the ball inside the box and chipped it easily over the head of Barbados’ goalkeeper Dario Weir. The custodian had left his mark in pursuit of the ball which was on its way into the back of the nets.
That was cause for celebration as USVI went into the second half with their slim advantage. In the 54th minute of the second half Barbados lost midfielder Jomo Harris who got a second yellow. But that did not stop the home team from pressing forward as they continued to search for that all important equalizer.
They had the perfect opportunity to level the scores in the 60th minute when Holligan was brought down yet again and Romario Harewood was given the task of taking the penalty but just like Harte his shot too was brilliantly stopped by Mozzo who had a fantastic game.
After the game Barbados coach Marcos Falopa admitted that the going was tough for his side, ranked 66 places higher than the USVI.
“It was a very difficult match. Some people say this team is not difficult but it was very difficult. We were playing with our under-23 mostly and the World Cup is a different story. It is not a friendly game, it is not a youth tournament. We still prepare this team and we believe this team could have done better but it was not to be,” Falopa said, while adding that last night was the first time he had seen a team missed two penalties during regular play in a game.
He went on to say that the Barbados team would need to prepare much better for their second game in the USVI on March 26.
“We have to change some defenders, sure we need time but we know what we need to change for the next [game] and I cannot tell you because it is my secret for next game.”