By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
With the A. O. Shirley Recreation Grounds unavailable for their use, the BVI Football team began play in Dominica yesterday in their home leg of their first round of FIFA World Cup Qualification for Russia 2018. They will face Dominica again on Sunday.
Those two games will be the third in a week, after the team—finding themselves short handed because of a FIFA eligibility rule—suffered a 1-0 loss to Antigua and Barbuda on Sunday, in their final tune up match.
Nine of the 23 players on the team—although born in the BVI—were deemed ineligible because they were born to parents from outside the territory and do not have BVI passports.
With the development, coach Avondale Williams had to hastily rearrange his team ahead of the game. Six minutes into play, Antigua and Barbuda’s Mervyn Hazlewood took advantage of a defensive lapse to calmly slot home past the goalie Daniel Barker for what turned out to be the game’s lone score.
Despite the challenges, Williams was pleased with the overall performance of a hastily rearranged team, which had fallen foul of FIFA’s eligibility rules.
“I’m very pleased with the performance of my team tonight,” he said. “We had to reshuffle things at the last minute, but all the players stepped up and battled well. Debutants Mario Burke, Allon Williams all played well as did Barker in goal. Hopefully, we can be more successful as we go on.”
Barker was a standout performer, playing in goal, where he had several crucial saves especially late in the match where Antigua and Barbuda controlled much of the clock. “We played well and in terms of performance, we are getting better every game,” Baker noted. “It’s not about individual performance, but how we play as a team, so tonight bodes well for the future.”
Before even learning about the ineligibility of his players, Williams had his concerns about playing three matches within a week. “It’s a disadvantage not having a home game—you need the fans to help lift your spirit and confidence,” Williams noted. “Unfortunately, we have to go there and make ourselves feel at home. But, it’s up to us. The ball is round so it’s anybody’s game.”
Because the home game carries more weight, Williams said they are aiming not to let Dominica score. “An away goal is an advantage towards the away team,” he pointed out. “We have to avoid at all cost them scoring on us.”