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Saturday, June 18, 2011


For most of the European football-loving public (and a fair few beyond), the travails of the season just gone are behind them, and they - and they clubs they follow - are looking forward to (or dreading) next season. However, the round ball just keeps rolling on, and for those football followers who are less than parochial in their love for the game, there is plenty to keep them occupied.

Apart from those countries where the regular season is still in full swing, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has reached the quarter-final stage, where the usual suspects - the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica - are once again featured in the line-up, the Island Games' men's and women's tournaments kick off in just over a week's time, while the Women's World Cup and the Copa América are also looming very large.

Almost unnoticed by those who slavishly follow the fortunes of Messi, Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo et al, the long journey to the holy grail of World Cup qualification began on Wednesday in the unlikely location of Couva, Trinidad and Tobago.

Couva, a small village in north-central Trinidad, earned its footnote in World Cup history by hosting the opening game in the CONCACAF region's World Cup qualifying tournament, which featured Montserrat, the nominal home side, taking on Belize in the local Ato Boldon Stadium (named after the local sprinting star) before an estimated audience of some 150 people.

The game was originally scheduled to take place at the Larry Gomes Stadium in nearby Malabar, but the venue was changed sometime in the last couple of weeks for reasons not apparent to your correspondent.

The game took place in Couva as Montserrat, FIFA's smallest member country and a British Overseas Territory, does not currently possess a stadium fit for hosting international football, though the local footballing body, the MFA, are busy readying what would surely be the world's smallest international football stadium, the very picturesque Blakes Estate Stadium in the tiny hamlet of Lookout, a one-grandstand ground with a capacity of precisely 504 people, which would hold roughly 9% of the island's population or around 6000.

Football has been taking place there since the stadium in the island's formal capital, Plymouth, was destroyed (along with the rest of the capital) when the Soufrière Hills volcano began a series of eruptions in July 1995. Nineteen people died following an eruption in June 1996

For the record, Belize won what was the first half of a two-leg elimination contest by 5 goals to 2, with their striker Deon McCauley gaining the honour of scoring the first goal of the 2014 World Cup after 24 minutes. He would later go on to complete the competition's first hat-trick. Harrison Roches and Elroy Kuylen completed the scoring for the Belizeans. Jay Lee Hodgson bagged a brace in reply for Montserrat.

For those who love their statistics, the following information might prove useful:


MONTSERRAT: Micah HILTON, Anthony GRIFFITH, Kendall ALLEN, Julian WADE (Alexander Bramble, 76), Wayne DYER, Darryl ROACH, Jay Lee HODGSON, Hildyard MENDES, Dale LEE, Alex DYER, Leovan OGARRO

BELIZE: Shane ORIO, Lúis MENDEZ (Ryan SIMPSON, 46), Dalton EILEY, Elroy KUYLEN, Ian GAYNAIR, Elroy SMITH, Deon McCAULEY, Harrison ROCHES (Daniel JÍMENEZ), Valian SYMMS, Everal TRAPP, Denis BENAVIDES (David TRAPP, 64)



BELIZE: Deon McCAULEY (24, 75, 83), Harrison ROCHES (50), Elroy KUYLEN (53)

The second leg is scheduled to take place in the Belizean capital city, Belmopan, next Sunday. Qualification should be merely a formality for Belize; although they are currently situated in 172nd place in the FIFA rankings, they are still 30 places ahead of Montserat, who are in 202nd position and joint dead last, alongside Anguilla, Andorra, American Samoa, San Marino and Papua New Guinea.

Montserrat's involvement in the 2014 World Cup campaign is likely to end before everyone else's (Belize excepted, naturally) begins, even before the lesser lights in the AFC take to the field on 29/6/11 for the first preliminary round in the Asian qualifiers. Eight games are scheduled to take place on that date, including what may well be the most emotive of them all, Bangladesh hosting Pakistan in Dhaka. The returns will be held on 3/7/11.

The first-leg of the second round of games in the AFC regional qualifiers will be held on 23/7 11, with the return leg taking place on 28/7/11. Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are among the teams who will enter the competition at the second-round stage, along with perennial under-achievers India and Indonesia.

Bhutan, Brunei Darusalaam, Guam and Mauritania declined to enter a team for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. The reasons why have not been made clear.


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