The British Virgin Islands are known best in CONCACAF footballing circles as something of a backwater, one of the Caribbean Sea's less formidable sides. The national team plays infrequently and often loses by substantial margins.
It is precisely that fact that makes their recent surge up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking all the more impressive. Moving 20 places in the latest re-shuffle of the global standings, the Nature Boyz - as the island chain's team is known - had a bittersweet month of March.
Although they bounced off their lowest-ever position (193rd) up to a comparatively respectable 173rd after two draws on the road in Nassau against the Bahamas, a cruel technicality saw them lose out on a spot in the second round of FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010™ qualifying on the away goals rule.
In doing so, BVI became an anomaly in this edition of CONCACAF preliminaries: the first team to be eliminated without having lost a game.
No place like home
The situation was an odd one. Unable to re-fit their dilapidated Sherly Ground up to the new FIFA code for international competition, the British Virgin Islands' FA agreed to play both legs of their first-round home-and-away series on the road on unfamiliar artificial turf in Nassau.
By default, the first leg on 26 March was designated as their 'away' game and the second four days later as their 'home' game. They drew the first leg after Rohan Lennon equalised a Bahamian opener from Lesly St. Fleur. In the second, after going down by two goals and looking dead in the water, their foraging captain Anadale Williams scored twice in the last 20 minutes to even the score at 2-2. Yet despite their brave effort, the fact that the team playing at home (Bahamas) scored twice in their designated 'away' leg meant they went through to meet Jamaica's Reggae Boyz in the next round.
It was rough justice for the British Virgin Islands, but they will know that they have made significant progress since losing 14-1 on aggregate to Bermuda in qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002. Their climb in the Ranking is also cause for some celebration.
The squad is comprised of only domestic-based players from the 20-team, all-amateur local league, making their recent rise in the ranking all the more impressive. "We had one overseas-based player who was supposed to come into the team," said Raul Ettienne, one of the country's up-and-coming midfielders. "But he pulled out, so it's just the boys from home, which is ok - we have some good ones."
'Not worried about the future'
Coached by Patrick Mitchell, the islanders will be hoping to keep up the current form and avoid succumbing to the disappointment of their slim loss in qualifying.
" " Ettienne added. "We're not worried about the future. We have players who can play. We'll keep going out and giving it our all."
Things aren't always too easy on
our islands, people don't always take football that
As they have sadly foregone attempting to qualify for the next Caribbean Cup in Jamaica, BVI will now be looking ahead to the next big test: qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
"I'd like to see facilities put in place because that's one of the main things hurting us right now; we don't have facilities to use," coach Mitchell said after the team returned home from Nassau by boat. "It's a total disadvantage when you are playing both games in the country of the opponent. It may look like one of the games is a 'home' game; but in fact, both are home games for them."
Only time will tell whether BVI get the home their recent efforts deserve, but if their impressive performances in Nassau are anything to by, they are well on their way to a brighter future.