They are known as one of the weakest teams in North, Central America and the Caribbean, but the British Virgin Islands are taking heart in the old adage that anything can happen in football.
Unable to refit their Sherly Ground in Road Town on time to meet the new requirements for international competition, BVI are forced to play both of their legs against the Bahamas on the road in Nassau. As if that were not enough of an advantage for the home team, the admittedly underprepared and all-amateur Virgin Islanders will need to play both legs in the space of just four days (26 March and 30 March).
"We know we are the underdogs, everyone knows that," midfielder Raul Ettienne told FIFA.com on the eve of the 26 March first leg in Nassau. "But it's football, you know, and that means we have a chance. Anything can happen over 90 minutes of football. I am confident that we can rise to the occasion and put in a good fight."
The British Virgin Islanders, aside from their geographical disadvantage, will also be hamstrung by their less-than fearsome reputation in the region. Although they have produced their share of talented players in recent years, few leave the islands to try their luck overseas.
"We had one overseas-based player who was supposed to come into the team for the qualifiers," Ettienne said with a sigh. "But he pulled out, so it will just be the boys from home, which is ok - we have some good ones."
In this case, "home" means the 20-team all-amateur league (it's actually two leagues played simultaneously) on the island chain of just over 20,000 people. Ettienne and a handful of the team come from local side Valencia, and most of the rest are part of top club Rangers.
While the Bahamas are ranked 178th in the world ranking and have undergone a massive overhaul at organisational level recently, lowly BVI are well near the bottom of the pile in 193rd. Coached by Patrick Mitchell, the Virgin Islanders are not expecting much out of this campaign, considering the 14-1 loss they suffered in qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002 and the 10-1 to St. Lucia last time out in the run-up to Germany 2006.
Playing football on the islands and assembling a competitive national team isn't always the easiest thing for BVI, as Ettienne points out. "Things aren't always too easy on our islands, people don't always take the football that seriously so we got a bit of a late start on our preparations," he said. "Even so, we're feeling good and we have a pretty good team together to take on Bahamas."
Having arrived late in Nassau due to travel complications, the Nature Boyz will have only one day to train on the BFA National Stadium pitch before the first-leg on Wednesday evening. Even so, they maintain a sense of carefree optimism in the face of a tough test.
"We're not worried," Ettienne went on. "We have players who can play and it's just another game of football... nothing to worry about. We'll go out and give it our all."
The Bahamas are taking a much more professional approach. With Brazilian head coach Neider Dos Santos holding the reins, the team has transformed itself into a competitive unit in the last few years. Taking the core of his senior side from the recently established youth set-up, the Brazilian coach has instilled a sense of discipline and style on the island, one that has been noted across the Caribbean.
Even so, the British Virgin Islanders have no fear and are hoping for the best. Getting past this first round would be as big an accomplishment as they could hope for.
"We are all local-based players so we know no one is
expecting us to do anything. But our dream, and I think it is
realistic, is to get to the next round so we can play
Jamaica," Ettienne concluded. "Only then, against a
strong team in the region, will our players begin to see what they
are worth and what we can really do.
"That would be like a World Cup final for us."