Seven teams from CONCACAF’s lowest reaches booked passage to the second phase of the region’s qualifiers, while seven others headed out at the first hurdle. There were no major shocks in the round, the first steps for North, Central America and the Caribbean on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. The two Central American teams, Belize and Nicaragua, moved on while St. Kitts and Nevis and Bermuda scored at will in their successful series. Barbados overcame a shock opening loss at home to see off US Virgin Islands, while Dominica and Curacao prospered in close-run ties.

Results (aggregate over two legs)
Barbados
4-1 US Virgin Islands
Nicaragua 8-0 Anguilla
St. Kitts and Nevis
12-4 Turks and Caicos
Bahamas 0-8 Bermuda
Belize
1-1 Cayman Islands (Belize through on away goal)
British Virgin Islands 2-3 Dominica
Curacao
4-3 Montserrat

The surprises
No Deon, no goals for Belize

One of the big surprises of the first round was the omission of Deon McCaulay for Belize. He plays his club football in the United States for NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks and finished the Brazil 2014 qualifiers as top scorer worldwide, ahead of even superstars like Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie. What was not a surprise was how the Jaguars struggled to score without him. They drew 0-0 at home and needed a stunner of a free-kick from Elroy Kuylen in the return leg to see off the Cayman Islanders and avoid disaster by the width of one slim away goal. It is hard to see into the future, but the smart money is on a recall for free-scoring McCauley in the next round. 

USVI out; future safe
Somali-born coach Ahmed Mohammed picked a US Virgin Islands side with an average age between 19 and 20. Their youngest player – Jacob Borden – is barely 16. This nod to youth looked to have paid off too, when USVI pulled off a shock win over Barbados on the road in the first leg. But experience won the day back on home soil as they were hammered 4-0. “No one knows us yet,” captain Dusty Good told FIFA.com. “But they’ll be talking about us after they see us play.” The 27-year-old USVI captain was as good as his word, and the Islanders will not be underestimated again.

Nicaraguan roll
Among the stars of the Central American scene – like Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and El Salvador – Nicaragua are outsiders. But with a new-look squad focused on the bloom of youth, the country has a bright future ahead. Their 8-0 aggregate win came, admittedly, against a weak foe in Anguilla. But the Nicaraguans looked strong in all aspects of the game, with a pair of shining stars in Luis Fernando Copete and Moises Raul Leguias, who each scored twice and play their club football together for AS Puma in Costa Rica’s top flight. 

Player of the round – Emmerson Boyce (BRB)
Barbados lacked discipline in the first leg, losing at home to an inexperienced US Virgin Island side. That all changed in the second meeting when coach Marcos Falopa called on Emmerson Boyce, who plays his club football for Wigan Athletic in England’s second tier. The 35-year-old skipper, who had been left out for the first leg, returned with authority. His presence in the middle of the pitch lent the Bajans a physical edge and a balance that was invaluable in the 4-0 win that saw them through. “Boyce helps the whole group,” said Barbados’ coach, in what must be the understatement of the round.

The number – 0
Anguilla are still waiting to win a game in World Cup qualifying. In two straight defeats to Nicaragua this time out, the islanders, second-bottom in the world ranking and 0-10 in their qualifying history, were unable to add to their paltry overall tally of two goals scored.

What they said
“We just couldn’t get the ball in the net. And if you can’t do that then you can’t win. Our finishing was so poor but we did just enough, so we can be relieved about that.” Goalkeeper Woodrow West of Belize bemoans the lack of finishing that saw the favourites barely edge past the Cayman Islands.

Next round
St. Vincent and the Grenadines-Guyana
Antigua and Barbuda-St Lucia
Puerto Rico-Grenada
Canada-Dominica
Dominican Republic-Belize
Guatemala-Bermuda
Aruba-Barbados
St. Kitts and Nevis-El Salvador
Curacao-Cuba
Nicaragua-Suriname
*Matches will be played on 8 and 16 June