Antigua St John's - In five weeks, the Antigua & Barbuda national football team will take on the United States in its first game in the 2014 FIFA World Cup semis.
On Monday, executives of the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association (ABFA) rolled out its progress report on this historic moment, a precursor to making it to the World Cup finals in Brazil in two years.
ABFA President Everton “Batow” Gonsalves, General Secretary Gordon “Banks” Derrick, head coach Tom Curtis, and team manager Fernando Abraham entertained journalists at a press conference at the Heritage Hotel conference room.
According to the executives, plans are coming together to display the national talents in football to the rest of the world starting on June 8 in Tampa, Florida, site of the first semifinal match.
Derrick told the media there has been a lot of interest here and abroad about the matches, especially the away game in the United States.
“The preparations are in full swing,” Derrick said. “Many persons at home and in the Diaspora have been inquiring about tickets for the games and the sales are going fairly fast. We know that this will be the highlight of Antiguans & Barbudans living in the Diaspora and we expect to have a good show for them and the world."
For those who want to travel to the US for the game in Tampa, Derrick said American Airlines has offered rebate fares.
He also noted that arrangements have been made with at least five hotels for accommodations starting at about US$105 per room.
There is also a pitch from the ABFA to government for tax exemption on airline tickets to the US for the match in Tampa.
“American Airlines is on board with us and we expect to have real good prices for airline tickets to go to Tampa,” the general secretary said. “We also expect even better prices with an exemption of the government tax on those tickets so person wishing to travel for the game can do so.”
The government has committed funding to the national team's participation and while some monies have been disbursed, it is not a very significant sum.
The president spoke on that issue.
“The government has made a financial pledge, but to date, we have received some monies for mobilisation, but nothing that is very significant,” Gonsalves said.
With the nation’s economy struggling, like many around the world, the president said while he expects the government to come through with its promise, the ABFA has a backup plan which involves corporate Antigua.
“We are confident that the government will make good on its commitment, but we also have an alternative in the case that the finances are not available from government,” Gonsalves said. “A number of corporate citizens have shown interest and are ready to fill the void if necessary. In that case, they will make financing available with the government being a guarantor.”
Antigua & Barbuda will play three games at home and three overseas, with monies from television rights available to the national association from the home games.
Monies for the team, which will display the culture of Antigua & Barbuda to the world, will also come from sponsorship, as well as tickets and paraphernalia sales.
There are five uniform kits from PEAK for sale showing off the five colours of the Antigua & Barbuda flag - blue, red, gold, white, and black.
Parallel to the preparations off the field, the team is going through a similar process on the pitch, with Curtis at the helm.
The coach said he has scouted the opposition's progress, and is getting his team ready for the historic matches.
Presently, the team is engaged in the United Soccer League (USL) as the Antigua Barracudas, and while they have a full schedule, fatigue will not be a problem in June.
“It’s my job to make sure I can see all the players and make sure that they are not playing too many minutes," Curtis said. “I need to see all the talent we have and in different settings."
The coach said two sports scientists from the United Kingdom have joined the team to make sure the players have the proper nutrition and are in peak shape for the games.
The team will leave for the IMG high performance centre in Sarasota, Florida in three weeks to prepare for the opening encounter in June.
After that first game, the team returns home to take on Jamaica at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Tickets for the game will go for US$45-75, depending on the seating. Anyone wishing to purchase tickets was encouraged to do so as soon as possible.
“We expect a large crowd, and we have asked that a certain area be blocked off so that we can have our supporters in the same area,” Derrick said.
For the games at home, he said fans need to purchase tickets quickly, and reminded the public that no tickets will be sold at the stadium on the day of the matches.
Tickets for the home games go on sale from May 12 at $75 for adults and $40 for children 10 years old and under.
On the first day of ticket sales, there will be a special on adult tickets at $60.
A number of billboards and television ads have been unveiled to promote the nation's participation in the greatest game in the world.
Corporate clients were also encouraged to get in touch with the ABFA to arrange corporate boxes at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for use during the home games.
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