Sunday, 10 June 2012 10:16
By Ian Magic Hughes
Antigua St John's - Following the Antigua & Barbuda Benna Boyz 3-1 defeat to the United States in the semis of the FIFA World Cup Qualifications in Tampa on Friday, the team is ready to battle Caribbean giants the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica.
The national team returned home on Saturday and wasted no time in tuning out Friday’s disappointment to focus on Tuesday’s ‘must win’ encounter.
At a press conference held at Rex Resort Hawksbill upon arrival, president of the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association Everton “Batow” Gonsalves expressed the urgency of the moment.
“This is a must-win game and we will be ready for Jamaica,” the president promised.
Jamaica comes to town with a win at home over Guatemala also on Friday and will be looking to add another victory on the road here at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium.
Of the four teams in group A the Benna Boyz are at the bottom of the rankings and with the USA and Jamaica winning at home, the Antiguans need to win if they are to get to RIO in 2014.
They will be up to the challenge against a tough opponent like Jamaica.
That sentiment was expressed by Coach Tom Curtis, who was impressed by his team’s performance in Tampa.
“We would have loved to win the game,” said Curtis “but I am encouraged by the maturity of the players, who all lifted their game on Friday.”
The Coach said that the performance is a clear demonstration that while they may be the ‘minnows’ of the group they have a chance to make it through to the finals in RIO.
“We have a chance,” said Curtis as he reflected on the US match where his team, after trailing by 2-0 at halftime pulled a goal back in the 65th minute on a Peter “Big Pete” Byers’ strike.
“They (USA) were clearly rattled,” said Curtis.
“You could see it in the players and the coaches after we scored.
“This was a game where they were expected to win big but we played well as everyone, even those who did not get into the game, pulled together.
The coach insisted that the real threat from the Benna Boyz will be the team’s maturity and the unity that was demonstrated on Friday.
Reflecting on the team’s performance against the USA, Curtis said that the players are ready to play when they are called upon to do so as did Byers who entered the game in the 62nd minute.
Byers, the team’s top scorer, did not start the game but was inserted with the team two goals down and in need of something positive.
Three minutes after entering the game Byers scored by splitting two defenders before hitting past Tim Howard in goal for the United States.
“After I picked up the ball, he (Howard) thought I was going right because I looked that way but instead I went left.
“It was pretty easy,” said Byers.
Curtis agreed. “That’s the maturity I am talking about. The same way Skepple did when he came into the game against Haiti, that’s what Peter did and that is the progress that is noticeable with this team,” the coach stressed.
The Coach added that Jamaica will be a different challenge but he is confident, like the President, that the team will be ready.
The game kicks off at 7 pm, three hours after gates open at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium which was inspected on Saturday by a FIFA inspector.
“When it comes to us (Antigua & Barbuda) FIFA it seems is overly meticulous but we will have the stadium ready for Tuesday,” said Gonsalves.
There are thousands of Jamaicans living in Antigua and it is expected that the visitors will be well represented in fan support.
To that Gonsalves is encouraging ‘all Antiguans & Barbudans to purchase tickets and come out and support team Antigua & Barbuda, the Benna Boyz.