Former captain Mario Harte marked his return to the national side with a goal as Barbados’ senior men’s football team won their first match of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Nations League last night.
Faced with a must-win situation having failed to secure a win in the tournament heading into their third Nations League outing, the Bajan Tridents picked up three points in Group B as they emerged victorious 3-0 against the United States Virgin Islands at the Barbados Football Association’s Wildey, St Michael AstroTurf.
Barbados’ commanding plays on both flanks, midfield dominance and clinical finishes in the final third earned the hosts three goals coming from captain Hadan Holligan, prolific forward Harte and an own goal.
During the post-match press conference, Barbados technical director Ahmed Mohammed credited the team for playing well but said there was room for improvement. “The players did what they had to do; it could be a bit better. Time wise we allowed United States Virgin Islands to play and that should not be. But at the end of the day, we wanted a win, a high win and it came out good. We are looking forward to our upcoming game [Nicaragua] in March to do the same thing,” he said.
Having missed a pure chance going one on one with USVI goalkeeper Benny Labadie, Holligan one minute later in the 25th minute redeemed himself by hammering home a one-time shot which was fed by man-of-the-match and left-side attacking midfielder Shakille Belle who was outstanding.
Dressed in unusual navy-blue colours, Barbados went into halftime with the advantage and extended their lead in the second-period compliments an own goal in the 79th minute that deflected off USVI forward Michael Dennis for the 2-0 lead.
But two goals weren’t enough as Harte executed a superb header taken off a corner opportunity in the 88th minute. Barbadian spectators jumped for joy as they danced to the sweet instrumentals played by members of the Barbados Defence Force orchestra. Harte could not have made his return to the national team more emphatic following a fall-out with the BFA.
Yesterday’s victory was badly needed considering the Bajan Tridents drew 2-2 against hosts Guyana and lost 3-0 on their visit to El Salvador in their Nations League campaign. Harte, Belle and Romario Harewood who was later substituted in the 65th for Raheim Sargeant, along with Mario Williams, all made the Barbados attack look more potent and purposeful in the final third.
But technical director Mohammed in response to how he felt about the impact made by those senior players on their return to the team said: “That opponent [USVI] is my team, I built that team, and I know who to play and how to play against them, but I don’t know if you realize that. We give them a little chance, and that was all, it had nothing to do with the players… At least nine players were not here. It has nothing to do with additional players as you guys were telling me all the time.”
Playing a 4-4-2 formation strategy was to keep USVI’s defence on their toes and he made his first substitution to reflect that when he brought off Jomo Harris and gave way to Ackeel Applewhaite at the start of the second half. Meanwhile, Ramon Manning positioned at left-back on his return to the team was later substituted in the 78th minute for forward Armando Lashley.
Similarly, the national team’s defence was upgraded with the return of Ricardo Morris at right-back and what a difference he made to the four-man defensive team working alongside Manning, full-back Ramar Millar and sweeper Kaeson Trench.
USVI haven’t played much football in the last two years, but they created a few chances at goal and did manage to slow down the pace of Barbados’ attack especially at the beginning of the second half. Barbados captain Holligan narrowed down USVI’s spike in momentum to a lack of understanding among his players. “It was just a little miscommunication between the guys, but then we sorted it out and started playing again,” said Holligan who was especially pleased with the crowd support.