Action from the Caribbean under-20 qualifier between St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda (pictured) on October 23, 2016, in Willemstad, Curacao. (Photo: David Heykoop)
St. JOHN’S, Antigua & Barbuda – By the time Antigua & Barbuda takes the field at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, for its 2017 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship opener against Mexico, more than 30 years will have passed since its last appearance in the competition.
Head coach George Warner believes the wait will have been worth it, especially considering that his side earned a berth by virtue of being the runner-up to Haiti in Caribbean qualifying. He knows, however, that the other Group A opponents -- Honduras and Canada – will also provide stiff competition.
“We deserve to be here based on our performance in Curacao in the CFU U-20 tournament, so I am expecting my players to execute similarly to how they did recently,” Warner told CONCACAF.com. “When you look at our group it features teams who have pedigree in the region and have experience qualifying for the U-20 World Cup. However, going into this tournament, we plan to be no pushovers. We are going to be meaningful competitors to show CONCACAF we are a force to watch in the region.”
Defender Vashami Allen admits the group is challenging, but he’s confident in his team’s ability to deliver on the field once again.
“When I watched the draw online, the first thing I said was ‘wow,’ this will be a tough group,” said 19-year-old, who was named to the Caribbean competition’s Best XI. “But we are a team that works hard for each other regardless of the opponent. I have the mindset that with confidence we can play well and get a result against anyone in the region. It is a new experience for us but we are confident we can make a good name for ourselves.”
The top two teams from each of the three group will advance to the second group stage comprised by two, three-team groups. The top two finishers from each of those trios will qualify for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Warner has an ambitions and high hopes for success in Costa Rica.
“I want my team to play to the best of their abilities,” he finished. “I am not setting where we want to finish, but, instead, I will ask my players to stick to the game plan and from there we take things one game at a time as see how things go. For now our focus is on Canada, Honduras and Mexico.”