With precious little to shout about in the past, football fans in Grenada - a small spice-producing island in the Caribbean - have been thrust into the midst of a profound footballing revival. After stretching regional powers Costa Rica in pre-qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Spice Boyz kept up the momentum to finish second in the 2009 Caribbean Nations Cup, booking passage to their first CONCACAF Gold Cup in the process.
The jump in overall form and competitiveness has seen the Grenadians zoom up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. After a 21-point rise in December last year (from 139 to 118), the islanders are on the move once more. The final release of the standings saw them climb another five places, currently nestled in a best-ever 103rd position globally and 11th in their region, ahead of the likes of Guatemala and Haiti.
I think a lot of people in England would be surprised by the quality of football we have down here in the Caribbean.
A nation of just over 100,000, Grenada still manage to field a pair of top-class players in USA-based Shalrie Joseph and Jason Roberts, who lines up for Blackburn Rovers in England's Premier League. Both were in the Spice Boyz' squad that drew with Costa Rica late last year, before dropping the second leg and going out of qualifying. The pair were not, however, available for the recent runners-up run in the Caribbean Cup in Jamaica, where player-coach Anthony Modeste's youthful and largely home-based squad put in a stunning string of performances to make history for the country.
"We have some fine players in this squad like Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution in MLS) and Byron Bubb (in England's lower leagues)," Jason Roberts, a highly-regarded striker in England's top flight, told FIFA.com. "I think a lot of people in England would be surprised by the quality of football we have down here in the Caribbean. The style of play is a little bit different on the islands than it is back in the Premiership, but that's part of the challenge and part of the fun."
They opened their 2009 Caribbean Cup account with a 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago thanks to a late goal from 'Tricky' Ricky Charles. Victory over the tournament favourite Soca Warriors, who are still in the running for one of North, Central America and the Caribbean's 3.5 spots at South Africa 2010, spurred Grenada, who rebounded from a 4-0 loss to Jamaica in their next game by hammering Barbados 4-2 to reach the semi-finals.
Against Cuba in the last-four, the Spice Boyz were again up to the task and won out on penalties. The result saw the islanders into only their second-ever Caribbean Cup final, the first coming in the inaugural instalment way back in 1989.
Up against John Barnes' Jamaica in the final in Kingston, the Grenadians came up short, losing out 2-0 for their second defeat at the hosts' hands. Even so, the inspired run to the final was enough to leave even the most cynical football fans back home with great hope for the future. "We don't feel like losers, we feel like winners," Modeste, who took over recently from Norris Wilson, said after the game. "We did ourselves and our country proud. No one thought that Grenada would have made it so far. This little team has shown that in the Caribbean, anything is possible."
Over the last five months the Grenadians have moved up a staggering 20 places in the global pecking order, and this summer they will take the field for the their first CONCACAF Gold Cup, hopefully with aces Roberts and Joseph in the line-up. And after fellow minnows Guadeloupe reached the semi-finals of the last regional showpiece (in 2007), the Boyz will be fancying their chances against regional giants Costa Rica, USA and Mexico, looking to spice up the field and cause yet another sensation.