The Bahamas is ranked at the bottom of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, so there is only one way to go, and with the country suffering major destruction and devastation this past week, the timing couldn’t be more right.
The men’s national soccer team got out to a fast start at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium yesterday evening and held on to defeat Bonaire, 2-1, taking its first game of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Nations League. The Bahamas plays out of Group B in League C with Bonaire and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), and will engage in home and away games against those two nations in the first round of league play. Just the winner of the group will advance to the next round and to the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Qualifiers, and The Bahamas is off to a fast start. They will travel to play the BVI on October 10. Bonaire defeated the BVI, 4-2, at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad, Curaçao, on Friday.
The CONCACAF Nations League is sanctioned by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) as an outlet for national teams in the region, particularly the lower-ranked ones, to get more regular play.
“We know what we have to do. Today was a great win for us,” said Cameron Hepple who scored The Bahamas’
second goal. “This feels amazing. It always feels good to score for the national team, but to do it under these conditions is massive. Everyone out here was motivated because of everything that happened this past week. We’re playing with a heavy heart and that’s part of the reason why we won. This win was massive for the country, and we’re happy to get it. We always expect to win, but it was a different feeling out there tonight. We had more heart. We could feel that the country was behind us and the country needed us.”
The 19 young men who represented the country, came through in flying colors in front of an enthusiastic crowd at home last night. It was Nesley Jean’s first win as national team head coach, Hepple and player/coach Happy Hall scored their first international goals in many years, and The Bahamas got its first win in a meaningful game in international play in eight years.
After a scoreless first half, Hall got the country on the scoreboard with a header off a deflection in the 50th minute of the game. Hepple got an insurance goal for The Bahamas in the 78th minute, evading a defender and taking a shot from just outside the penalty box. He dribbled the ball past Bonaire’s goalkeeper Rishison Frans to give The Bahamas a 2-0 lead.
Bonaire got a late goal as striker Yurick Seinpaal scored in the 89th minute, but it was too little too late for them.
Hepple is making a return to national team play for the first time in four years, and Hall played sparingly this year, but he, too, was off for about three or four years before returning to national team duty.
“To take a four-year break and to come back and be able to do this is amazing,” said Hepple. “We came out with the win, and that’s an amazing feeling. I’m proud of every one of these guys, especially the coach Nesley Jean and Happy Hall. It’s good that we have this Nations League concept where we could compete against people who are similar in talent with us instead of us playing one game every four years and having to play against a powerhouse like Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago. This allows us to prepare, continue to build and it allows the younger players to have an opportunity. It’s good for these kids to get that kind of exposure. When you could wear your national team jersey in front of thousands of fans, it’s an awesome feeling.”
This is just the beginning of Group B of League C Nations League play for The Bahamas. They travel to play the BVI in early October and then welcome the BVI to The Bahamas in November. They will go on the road to play Bonaire in November, as well. For now, it was all about rallying around the victims of Hurricane Dorian and bringing some sense of healing to the nation through sports. Dorian, with winds of up to 185 miles per hour and gusts of up to 220 miles per hour, was the most powerful storm of record to ever hit the northern Bahamas. It ripped through Abaco and Grand Bahama from Sunday to Tuesday last week, causing billions of dollars in damages. The official death toll is 50, and it is rising. There was an expression of sadness and hurt among the Bonaire players as well.
“We’re very sorry for all the people of The Bahamas who lost family and friends in the hurricane. Our deepest condolences to them,” said Bonaire striker Seinpaal. “They came out here and played great today and we have to give it to them. I know that they are going to go very far in soccer because they are a great team. We know that they will keep training and keep getting better, but so will we, so we are looking forward to the next match-up.”
Seinpaal said, for them, it’s all about getting better for their next outing.
“This was not our best performance today, but The Bahamas has a great team and they played like beasts,” said Seinpaal. “They kept running and they got us tired early. We got a goal back late in the game, but unfortunately for us, it was too late. We did our best and we look forward to the next game.”
Hall said he’s glad that they were able to come through when they needed to the most.
“There was a lot of talk about bringing the old boys back, and here it is I got the first goal, and Cameron got the second one,” said Hall. “We’ve both been around for a while, and we both showed that we could still run a couple laps around the pitch. It’s a great feeling,” he added.
Prior to the win, The Bahamas was ranked at number 210 in the world according to the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. The BVI is at number 204, and Bonaire was at number 192.
In attendance at the game at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium last evening, was CONCACAF General Secretary Philippe Moggio. He brought remarks of solidarity and his organization’s support for The Bahamas in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Dorian.
The CONCACAF Nations League began with a one-off qualifying phase in 2018. Following 68 matches, the 34 participating teams were compiled into an aggregate table, ranking them 1 through 34. The final standings of each team determined if they were placed into League A, B or C. The six teams that participated in the hexagonal round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Russia 2018, were pre-seeded directly into League A. The Bahamas plays out of League C.
Through this new centralized competition, all 41 CONCACAF member associations will keep the dream alive by participating in competitive international football year-round.