IMG Acadamy, Bradenton, FL: After Sunday’s spectacular performance, today’s game was always going to be a challenge. Were Antigua and Barbuda going to excel even further, or were they going to rest on their laurels and try to coast to victory?
Well, the answer seemed clear within the first passage of play when Antyon Henry nipped in and stole the ball in midfield, letting the St Maarten boys know this was *his* territory. He continued to operate with stealth and subterfuge in the opening minutes, like a sniper, taking the ball away from the opposition and moving it on, leaving St Maarten bewildered.
A nice steady start, with some flowing passing and movement. The battle in midfield appeared to have been temporarily won. Antigua was looking good, prompting vocal support from the travelling parents and relatives on the sidelines.
Then came the first of many fouls, D’Andre Bishop is crudely hacked down and rolls in pain, clutching his ankle. A concern in the dugout as the coaches had already adjusted the team to compensate for the injured Shawn Watkins, who was so effective in defence on Sunday. Relief, Bishop is back on his feet and involved once again.
In the searing heat, the Antiguan boys use intelligence to counter the physical approach employed by St Maarten, conserving energy by letting the ball do the running.
Then a moment of magic, Dillan Hadeed floats a beautiful ball over the defense, a deft dab with the outside of his right boot exposes the St Maarten defense and lands in the stride of Shakwon Simon.
Simon opts to round the struggling defender, but just can’t quite get enough on the ball to beat the keeper who saves with his feet.
The disappointment of this misses is short lived, as D’andre Bishop finds himself in a similar position, but this time executes the move perfectly by rounding the keeper and sliding the ball into the empty goal. (1-0 Bishop 5 minutes)
The game is restarted and instructions of “close them down” can be heard from the Antiguan bench. The midfield does exactly as instructed, gaining possession and neatly passing the ball until it is within the range of goal. Shaquan Telemaque lifts his right foot like a hammer and powers the ball past the stunned goalkeeper. The ball ricochets off the left post and into the net. A stunning strike emphasised when it hit the woodwork on its journey to goal. Well worth a replay. (2-0 Telemaque 6mins)
The Antiguan boys are still celebrating as the game is restarted, believing this was going to be a rout. Fair play to St Maarten, they were determined to restore some pride and changed their game slightly to quash any thoughts of an annihilation.
The game descends into a series of personal battles, with trivial fouls and misdemeanours bringing the referee more into the spotlight than the players. The game never regained its fluidity, as grace, skill and intelligence are substituted for a physical contest. This style of play seemed to benefit St Maarten as the boys left the field for half time with the score still at 2-0.
The second half commences but it seems the boys in the white shirts of St Maarten have identified a formula to stop Antiguan attacks. Two players seem to be marking Antyon Henry and he is no longer able to operate as a fulcrum in midfield.
Garron Warner, making his first appearance, seems to be following instructions to every last detail, keeping it simple, maintaining possession, moving the ball on swiftly. These instructions seemed to have been forgotten by most of the Antiguan team who became embroiled in some heavy tackles and challenges whilst trying to play direct and up close with the opposition.
These lapses in attention force a rare moment of concern for the back four who are caught static. St Maarten pushes on and a three-on-three situation develops. Ratijah Davis is nicknamed “The Hulk”, he did what Hulk does best and smashes the ball to safety.
This is a warning to Antigua, not to become complacent, one goal for the opposition and this game could be lost. Sensing the danger, Dillan Hadeed single-handedly decides to bring the fight to St Maarten, attacking them with raw pace, power and stamina. Dillan is like a relentless machine now, his teammates saw him as an outlet, feeding him the ball time-after-time on the right wing.
It’s a one man destruction of a team, he takes on their diminutive number 2, outpacing and overpowering him to fire a sweet deceptive strike across the keeper and onto the far post. Such rotten luck as the ball strikes the inside of the upright and bounces to safety.
The St Maarten defence now has to stop this outlet and did so by pitting two players against Dillan. The next attack is almost comical as their biggest and smallest player try to chase the marauding Antiguan right midfielder. He starts a run in his own half, evades three challenges and is on course for goal when he is maliciously chopped in full flow, prompting a long overdue yellow card for the St Maarten number 18.
Dillan is soon substituted, a sensible decision, to avoid potential injury and ensure he is fit for the next game. He is applauded as he leaves the field in the closing stages.
The game closes out to an unremarkable end, another victory for Antigua and Barbuda in very harsh conditions. Sometimes you have to dig deep, mix it up and win ugly, they did just that in the end.
Final score: St Maarten 0 – Antigua and Barbuda 2
Courtesy of Kevin McIntosh