There were no major surprises in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in Russia. Canada opened their account with aplomb while the Central America quartet of Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and Nicaragua all move on. Cuba’s hopes were dashed at the first hurdle while goals tumbled in across the Caribbean. FIFA.com takes a closer look at all the action.
Results (Aggregate over two legs)
Nicaragua 4-1 Suriname
St. Vincent/Grenadines 6-6 Guyana (away goals)
Antigua and Barbuda 5-4 St. Lucia
Curacao 1-1 Cuba (away goals)
Aruba 0-3 Barbados
Dominican Republic 1-5 Belize
Dominica 0-6 Canada
St. Kitts and Nevis 3-6 El Salvador
Puerto Rico 1-2 Grenada
Guatemala 1-0 Bermuda
Deon means goals in Belize
Belize struggled to score without hit-man Deon McCaulay in the opening rounds. They scored only once – and that from a set-piece – in 180 minutes of football against the Cayman Islands. But the return of their star striker in the second-round series against Dominican Republic made all those woes disappear. He scored three in two games and is on track to repeat his amazing feat of four years ago when he finished global top-marksman in qualifying for Brazil 2014, edging out Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. “Deon’s composure in front of the goal is the kind of thing you can’t teach,” veteran Belize midfielder Elroy Kuylen told FIFA.com
Antigua and Barbuda were heavy favourites against St. Lucia. But despite drilling his team in the need to be punctual and professional, new coach Piotr Nowak watched his Benna Boys go slow off the blocks. They lost the first leg 3-1 at home and had to leave it very late to turn the result around, winning 4-1 in the second leg. Josh Parker scored three minutes into stoppage time of the return leg and Aaron Tumwa added another two minutes after that. “Time can be a kind of fluid thing on the islands,” said Nowak, a legend in his homeland of Poland and his adoptive USA. Fans on the islands will see it as a case of better late than never.
Canada back in the saddle
The men from the Great White North exorcised some qualifying demons with a 6-0 win over Dominica. The Canadians are hoping for a fresh start after the humiliation they experienced last time out, in qualifying for Brazil 2014, when, needing only a draw in Honduras to stay alive, they were thrashed 8-1. It was a result that signified the need for top-to-bottom change. Then coach Stephen Hart stepped down and new coach Benito Floro stepped in, bringing with him a new outlook and sensibility from his native Spain. Judging by their impressive performances against Dominica, there’s a new optimism and verve in the Canuck camp.
Player of the round - Emmerson Boyce (BRB)
*Barbados have come a long way since losing their Round One opener against lowly US Virgin Islands. Much of that turnaround is down to the return of 37-year-old captain Emmerson Boyce, who plays his club football for Wigan Athletic. The veteran adds mettle and bite to the heart of the team and since he re-joined the side, the *Bajans have won all three of their games by an aggregate score of 7-0. He even chipped in with a goal this time around in a simple win against Aruba.
6 – St. Vincent/Grenadines and Guyana each scored six in their goal-littered contest. With 12 goals in total, the tightly fought affair was the devil-may-care shootout of the round. In the end, only St. Vincent’s sextet was enough, thanks to extra strikes on the road. With three of his country’s goals, Vincey Heat’s Tevin Slater, who only made his first cap last year, looks a striker to watch.
What they said
“All the rest of the game is important too, but you can’t win if you don’t score goals,” *Belize’s star striker Deon McCaulay, who returned to the team to score three goals in two games. *
*The third-round matches will be played from 31 August to 8 September.