Antigua & Barbuda (pictured) celebrates after scoring against Bermuda in a Caribbean under-20 qualifier on October 25, 2016. (Photo: David Heykoop)
WILLEMSTAD, Curacao – Antigua & Barbuda will compete next year in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship for the third time – but first since 1986 -- thanks to it earning a place in the semifinals of the Caribbean qualifying tournament currently being contested in Curacao.
The Benna Boys captured first place in their final-round group by topping Bermuda on Tuesday, 3-2, and completing Group A play with a 2W-1D-0L record. They will square off against Trinidad & Tobago in a final-four meeting on Friday at the Stadion Ergilio Hato.
In speaking with CONCACAF.com, head coach George Warner expressed pride in his team’s accomplishments and confidence that football is on the rise in the twin-island nation.
“Achieving what we did on Tuesday night was special,” he said. “I am truly proud and happy of my team of players and the hard work they have shown thus far in Curacao. We set out a goal from the first round of the qualifiers in June to reach the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and to achieve this is something to be joyful about.
“All have contributed efficiently. The success is definitely on the hard work of the players and how clinical we have been in front of goal and our tactical discipline in defense. Football is truly on the rise in Antigua & Barbuda. Many say cricket is our islands most popular sport but football is number one now in my eyes.”
In six overall Caribbean qualifiers, Antigua is unbeaten with 4-2-0 mark, while scoring 15 goals in the process. Mercurial forward Javorn Stevens has netted in five of those outings for six total tallies.
Warner is not stunned by the 18-year-old’s performances or output. In fact, he realizes that Stevens has put in the hard work to make himself a formidable player.
“What Javorn has done for this team is no surprise,” remarked Warner. “Since he was 14 years old in 2012 with the U-17 Antigua team, it was clear that he was leaps and bounds in development ahead of other players. He has the drive, desire and determination to do well and all the success he is receiving is well deserved. To see him in the fringes of the senior team is no fluke either. It is clear he has a bright future ahead and he is going places.”
As a result of the success in Curacao, expect football in Antigua & Barbuda to continue moving forward as well.
“This result certainly means the world to us,” Warner commented. “For Antigua & Barbuda, it shows to aspiring footballers and youth that you can achieve anything you want with hard work and a good attitude. We now have a grand opportunity to play with the big boys of CONCACAF like Mexico and the United States, amongst other teams. Iit is a privilege to rub shoulders with them and be in the same conversation as them. These performances show our investment in youth development is paying off and we are sticking by it.
“However, we still need to stay grounded, we have two more matches to play in Curacao starting with Trinidad and push for our next aim which is to win the CFU U-20 title. After that we will focus our eyes on Costa Rica in 2017.”