Grenada spice up Caribbean mix

They produce a third of the world's supply of nutmeg, but the Spice Islanders of Grenada have rarely been considered prodigious exporters of the beautiful game. However, all of that may well be about to change as the Grenadians charged up the global rankings in the final month of 2008, dispatching Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago in a run to last year's Caribbean Cup final.

The nation's stock in the ultra-competitive world of international football rose markedly in December, with the Spice Boyz - as the green, yellow and red-clad national team is affectionately known - rose 21 points up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking from 139 in November to 118 last month. The jump-up for the men from the sun-soaked island of just over 100,000 came on the back of an unlikely runners-up showing at the recently concluded Caribbean Cup, and represents the second-biggest upward movement of any of FIFA's 208 national member associations over the final month of 2008.

Grenada were tipped by precious few to make a mark at last month's 15th Caribbean Cup. Drawn into a tough Group B alongside the Soca Warriors of Trinidad and Tobago, hosts Jamaica and Cuba, the Spice Boyz were expected to slump out alongside fellow minnows Barbados. But football is not played on paper and player-coach Anthony Modeste, 33, of Jamaican club giants Portmore United, and Trinidad-based Ricky Charles led the side on a giant-killing run.

They opened their account with a shock 2-1 win over 2006 FIFA World Cup™ finalists Trinidad thanks to a last-gasp goal from 'Tricky' Ricky Charles, who somehow steered his comically mistimed volley into the back of the net in the final minute. Victory over the tournament favourite Soca Warriors, who are still in the running for one of North, Central America and the Caribbean's 3.5 spots at South Africa 2010, spurred Grenada, who rebounded from a 4-0 loss to Jamaica in their next game by hammering Barbados 4-2 to book a place in the semi-finals.

Against Cuba in the last-four, the Spice Boyz were again up to the task and won out on penalties after finishing regular time all square at 2-2. The result saw the islanders into only their second-ever Caribbean Cup final, the first coming in the inaugural instalment back in 1989. The reasons for the fine run of form were simple, according to Modeste. "God, hard work, dedication and team spirit! The players gave it their all. We were confident. Love of the game brought us that far," said the defender and coach.

Reggae trumps spice
Up against John Barnes' resurgent Jamaica in the final in Kingston, the Grenadines came up short, losing out 2-0 for their second defeat at the hosts' hands. Even so, the shock runners-up finish was enough to leave even the most cynical Grenadian football fans with great hope for the future.

The feat is all the more impressive considering the Spice Boyz achieved it without the services of their two best players, Shalrie Joseph who plays in the USA's Major League Soccer with New England Revolution and Jason Roberts, Blackburn Rovers free-scoring striker. Though the two were not available for overseas duty at the Caribbean Cup, they both lined up for the national team during the qualifying run for South Africa 2010 (where Grenada were eliminated by Costa Rica after earning a credible draw with the Ticos on home soil), and are likely to join the team later this year as they ride their rarefied status in the Caribbean to the CONCACAF region's major championship; the Gold Cup.

It will be Grenada's first appearance at the biannual CONCACAF showpiece and, considering their ranking of 13th in the region and improved status overall, the ambitious islanders might just be in the mood to spice things up on an even bigger stage.