Spice Boyz wait on stars

While still waiting on the availability of their pair of top-flight overseas professionals, namely Jason Roberts and Shalrie Joseph, Grenada are looking as if they might not need the help.

Since taking over the coaching reins in late 2007, former international Norris Wilson has whipped the Spice Boyz into shape. Two recent friendly wins over Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, both above them on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, has the Caribbean islanders smiling ahead of their single-leg 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against US Virgin Islands in late March.

Not since their Caribbean Cup runners-up finish in 1989 have spirits been so high on the 'Spice Island'. "I can't complain about the start we've had to 2008," Norris told FIFA.com. "We beat both Guyana and St. Vincent (both 2-1) away from home and both of them are ranked well higher than we are in the region."

Both Guyana (who recently beat Cuba) and St. Vincent earned byes into the second round of CONCACAF qualifying due to their impressive recent results. And when one considers the fact that Grenada's two friendly successes came without a proper training pitch on which to prepare, and without the country's two biggest-name players in the side, the achievement becomes even more impressive.

"At the moment we have to be very efficient with our training sessions," the coach said, laughing. "Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of our training facility in 2004 and we don't have proper floodlights, so when the lads get to practice after work we have to get right to it and use the sun we have left!"

Norris, who coincidentally coaches local side Hurricane FC, also has the added frustration of being without his two leading competitors: Shalrie Joseph and Jason Roberts of New England Revolution and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Neither player has formally committed to Grenada for the upcoming qualifier in their capital of St. George's, but they have been contacted by the FA and expressed interest in taking part.

"It's hard to express just how important these two players are to our hopes," Norris remarked. "Shalrie (Joseph) is a strong player and a key defensive midfielder who can distribute the ball, while Jason (Roberts) is a powerful striker with a nose for goal who can hold it up and bring the midfielders into the attack. The pair would really bring a lot to the team."

In June 2004, both Roberts and Joseph took part in the qualifying campaign for Germany 2006, where Grenada were beaten by CONCACAF giants USA over two legs by a respectable 6-2 aggregate scoreline (they only lost the home leg 3-2). Joseph, who could have opted to play for the US but chose instead to represent his homeland, is widely regarded to be the frontrunner for the Caribbean Football Union's Player of the Year award for 2007, and Roberts' English Premier League experience and sheer power would add much to the gritty and talented crop of local players from the island of just over 90,000.

A fine blend
With a crux of what he calls "talented and lively" domestic league players, Norris can also count on Jamaica-based, 30-time-capped central defender and captain Anthony 'Nixon' Modeste of Portmore United, speedy winger Byron Bubb of Farnborough FC in England's lower leagues, and Canada-based former youth international Lyndon Antoine.

The Spice Boyz will head into their one-off qualifier against 202nd-ranked (out of 207) US Virgin Islands as heavy favourites, but Norris admits his side, themselves only ranked 163rd in the world, will not have it easy.

"Even though we are playing at home we need to go into the game with USVI with the mindset that we are the underdogs, otherwise we could be crippled by the occasion and get caught out," he said. "We will respect them, not be complacent and go right at them from the start."

Were his men to get past their island neighbours, as is expected, a date with Central American giants Costa Rica would await. In this instance there would be no debate about who the underdog would be. "Playing Costa Rica would be a historic day for us," Norris added.

"And who knows what could happen. Football is a funny game and any team can make history on their day. We could cause a sensation."

The Grenadians are planning two more friendlies, against Barbados and a team to be announced, before meeting USVI at their National Stadium on 26 March.