International week has dragged although the newly hatched UEFA Nations League seems to have a lot more going for it than the pedestrian paced friendlies we used to have to endure.
Over in this part of the globe the CONCACAF region have also embraced the Nations League concept and have replaced friendlies with a tournament that will not only have a champion plus promotion and relegation through the small teamed groups, but will also determine who qualifies for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
This year’s six World Cup qualifiers were given a pass in the opening qualification round. They were Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago. Guatemala have been suspended from FIFA so also sit on the sidelines. The remaining 34 teams in the confederation that spans from Canada in the north, to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana in the south, have entered the qualifying which currently sits in a long league table.
Each country will only play four matches though, two at home and two away. A model made the draw making sure teams are evenly matched and don’t play each other more than once.
The 34 teams are a mix of Central American nations and Caribbean islands plus some collective randoms, such as Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana from the continent of South America. The Atlantic outpost of Bermuda, never call it a Caribbean island, also falls into that category.
There are a wide range of populations amongst the islands. Cuba with 11.2m people being the biggest. Haiti and Dominican Republic also has a population of over 10m. Canada has over 30m, but the smallest is Montserrat with almost 5,000.
Of course Lyle Taylor’s appearance in Montserrat’s first win in five years on Tuesday at home to Belize was the inspiration for this post. It was an historic occasion and this cracker of a goal by Spencer Weir-Daley won it for the tiny island nation who play on a field next to the airport with a couple of hundred seats.
Montserrat’s players are mostly drawn from the English non-league and qualify through parents or grandparents. Taylor is by the far the highest profile player although midfielder Brandon Comley plays for Colchester United.
Last ranked 205 in the FIFA rankings, out of 210, Monserrat only lost their last game to El Salvador (pop: 6.4m) in injury time. Taylor qualifies through his grandparents and I’m sure his pink hair went down a treat and credit to him for making the long journey.
There has been some crazy results so far in the CONCACAF Nations League so far. No more so than Bermuda’s 12-0 win over Sint Maarten, the Dutch half of the still recovering from Hurricane Maria pretty Caribbean island. Incidentally Bermuda’s biggest ever win was 13-0 against…. yup Montserrat. That was in 2004.
Meanwhile both Saint Martin (the French half) and Sint Maarten have yet to score in four games between them and have conceded a whopping 38 goals. Somewhat surprisingly Curaçao lead the table after two games.
Bermuda lost their first game in Aruba 3-1, and they really shouldn’t. Next up Bermuda play El Salvador, whilst Montserrat are at Aruba, who are are very beatable.