For a country that has passed back and forth from British to French control so frequently, one might expect St. Lucia to have slightly more pedigree in football. Unfortunately for the small Caribbean island wedged in between Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Martinique, native technique and enthusiasm for the game have never quite turned into anything resembling sustained success.
Having been the victims of the Turks and Caicos Islands' first-ever FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win in their first leg last month, St. Lucia now have a hill to climb with the return leg at home on 26 March. However, even with the odds stacked against them, a 2-1 deficit to overturn and the horizon looking gloomy, current coach and former international Terrence Caroo believes his side are well positioned to turn things around.
"We really should have won that first game," the coach told FIFA.com with a little over a week to go before TCI come calling at the national stadium in Vieux Fort. "To their credit, Turks and Caicos stuck to their game plan, defended well and tried to hit out on the counter-attack.
"Overall I feel we were much better than they (TCI) were, but they took the two chances they had and we were wasteful, and you can't afford to do that in football at any level," the coach added.
With a population of just over 160,000, expectations for FIFA World Cup qualifying are predictably modest when it comes to St. Lucia, who only established an FA in 1979 (the same year they achieved independence). But they were expected to get past TCI when the draw was announced and coach Caroo still thinks his men can pull off the job.
"To be honest, I am pretty sure we are going to overturn this deficit and reach the next round," he said. "Our players are as good as any other country in the Caribbean, but we lacked organisation before the first game. We have worked to solve those problems and we will be ready to go and I am confident we will prevail."
Another reason for high spirits in the squad is the return of three senior players who were missing for the first leg. Defender Sheldon Mark, Sheldon Emanuel and Titus Elve all missed the first leg but will be fit to play on home soil in the second. St. Lucia will also be able to rely on the experience of Shervon Jack, who plays his football in Trinidad and Tobago with traditional powers Joe Public. The returning trio and the Trinidad-based back could make all the difference according to Caroo.
"These are extremely important players as concerns our national team," he said. "They have experience playing outside of the island and as senior players they will be sure to take the lads by the scruff of the neck and sort out the ones who need it."
Should they overhaul the deficit, a date with Central Americans Guatemala would await the St. Lucians in June. "There can be no joking around when you play a team like Guatemala," the coach concluded. "If you do not go in with the right attitude and mental preparation, they will take you apart and embarrass you for 90 minutes.
"It would be a big day for us," he added, thinking ahead to a possible contest with the Chapines.
The furthest the St. Lucians have ever strayed in regional qualifying was during the preliminary competition for Germany 2006 when they somehow managed to demolish the British Virgin Islands 10-0 over two legs to reach the second qualifying round. That was as good as it was to get, however, because despite putting up a brave fight against a steadily improving Panama, they tumbled out by an aggregate score of 7-0.
Should they get their act together this time and vanquish TCI,
the islanders will be hoping for a more respectable display against
even more significant Central American opposition.
If spirit and optimism count for anything, the islanders are well on their way.