Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago wasted no time in securing their places in the region's final qualifying round for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 after winning their respective groups in the pre-qualifying phase. The pair will now battle it out with the winners of CONCACAF's four other sections, whose identities will be known by the end of September, for the region's two slots in the Far East next year.
Although both sides went through as section winners, their respective passages could not have been more contrasting. While Bahamas secured their second-round place with a single crushing victory, T&T needed three games and could only relax when the final whistle blew.
Soca Warriors up against it
Group A took place in the Surinamese capital of Paramaribo, where Trinidad and Tobago arrived as clear favourites given their pedigree and big-game experience. In the end the Soca Warriors lived up to their pre-tournament billing, but only after overcoming some fierce resistance from their hosts, who gave them a serious fright in their final group match.
The section's opening games went according to script,
T&T easing past Guyana 4-0, and Suriname having to work
considerably harder to overcome Netherlands Antilles 1-0 courtesy
of a Cleon Wondel goal. On matchday two, the Soca Warriors kept
their 100-percent record with a clinical 3-0 win over the Antilles,
while the locals suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of
battling Guyana - a result that all but sealed T&T's
passage to the next round.
In order to deny them top spot, Suriname now needed to beat the group favourites in their final game, and came mighty close to doing just that. The hosts threw everything they had at the Germany 2006 finalists, but to no avail, as T&T nervously held firm to progress to the next round. For their part, Guyana and Netherlands Antilles rounded off proceedings with an entertaining 2-2 draw.
A breeze for Bahamas
The race to qualify from Group F was markedly different. The withdrawal of British Virgin Islands meant that the group winner would be decided in a single game between the section's two remaining sides: Bahamas and US Virgin Islands. The fixture was to be a repeat of a friendly between the teams played earlier in the year, a match Virgin Islands rather surprisingly won. So, despite the tie being played in their capital city Nassau, Bahamas were understandably cautious as they set out to secure their passage.
In the end their concerns proved unfounded as they stormed to an
emphatic 6-1 win, Happy Hall and Shermon Thompson grabbing a brace
apiece, and Dermont Mitchell and Cameron Hepple also getting on the
Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago now await the winners of Groups B-E in the six-team final round to decide CONCACAF's two representatives at Beijing 2008.