St. John’s Antigua- Antigua & Barbuda have qualified from Group One of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) leg of the CONCACAF Under-20 Tournament as the best second place team following their 3-3 draw against Curacao at Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds on Sunday night.
It was the first time in three matches that the home team dropped points following a 4-0 opening victory over Dominica last Wednesday and a 2-1 triumph over Grenada on Friday.
The “Benna Youths” fell into the second slot only due to an inferior goal difference to that of Curacao who were also unbeaten in three matches.
Antigua & Barbuda ended the Group with seven points and a plus five goal difference, while Curacao also finished with seven points, but with a plus six goal difference.
In their somewhat heated fixture on Sunday, Antigua & Barbuda could not hold onto a one-goal advantage after leading the visitors 3-2 in the 60th minute of play via a hat-trick from Elvis Thomas who netted in minutes 31, 35 and 60.
Curacao answered with strikes from M Maria who netted twice when he opened the scoring in minute 10, before adding a second in minute 58.
R Kirindongo scored the final goal of the match in the 66th minute when he drew the visitors level at 3-3.
Head coach of the Antigua & Barbuda team, George “Cajawawa” Warner, expressed satisfaction with the level of performance by the young Antiguans.
“We couldn’t expect better from the team. They played with heart, they played with character and they basically played with a sense of purpose which was basically to win. We spoke about coming first in the group really but unfortunately we didn’t come first. We came second, but we didn’t lose a game. We drew one and won two, so it is a good achievement for the guys really,” he said.
The successful youth coach added that focus will now turn towards keeping the players together as much as possible as they look towards the start of the ABFA’s programme.
“As you know, the Premier Division will be coming in shortly and some of them will be playing in the Premier and First divisions. So what we will do is that we have to meet at least once or twice a week and keep everybody together because some will be going off to universities around the States and we figure that we would have to make sure that they too are doing the right thing at their college,” he said.
Warner, who has won several coaching titles in Antigua & Barbuda, however expressed some disappointment with the crowd support they received, but continued to encourage the public to come out in support of the youth.
“Well, you know when it comes to youth football in this country it is yet to see the country turn out like for the senior team and we are still appealing to the Antigua & Barbuda public to come and support the youths and try to give them courage so that they too can feel like they are part of this and that they too can reach the highest heights of the youth level,” the coach said.
Antigua & Barbuda will now contest a tough Group B in the final round of the competition in which they will face competition from Jamaica, Suriname and Cuba.
Group A comprises Haiti, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico.
Five nations will qualify for the 12-team CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Puebla, Mexico from February 18 to March 2.
A complete schedule of matches was expected be released by the CFU.