Guyana sold out, taking the money it will earn for playing its final -- and basically meaningless -- home game of the semifinal round of Concacaf qualifying against Mexico at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium, but Antigua & Barbuda never considered moving Friday's game against the United States to U.S. soil.
Playing the USA at Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds is a p.r. coup for the Caribbean island. On top of that, the Benna Boys believe they can win and advance to next year's Hexagonal -- even though the odds of moving on are minuscule.
Antigua & Barbuda Football Association general secretary Gordon “Banks” Derrick said the media coverage from the 20 or U.S. and foreign journalists expected to cover the game is invaluable.
“It would be a travesty to play the United States and not have the opportunity to play them here so that all the media hype around it could experience Antigua and sell us to the rest of the world, not only from a football perspective but a tourism point of view which could be a help to our economy, which is largely tourism-based,” he told the Antigua Observer.
Derrick had denied there were efforts to move the game because of the condition of the cricket pitch, saying the September qualifier against Guatemala was played at the same cricket grounds and went off without a problem.
Antigua & Barbuda has only one point in four games -- a 0-0 tie with Jamaica in their second game -- but it is not mathematically eliminated.
Benna Boys general manager Fernando Abraham said the goal is to win Friday's game and the Jamaica game in Kingston on Tuesday and reach Concacaf's final six. (To do that, Antigua & Barbuda will also need Guatemala to sweep its final two games and then need to edge out the USA and Jamaica -- which it trails now by six points apiece -- on goal difference.)
“We have a chance," he told the Good Morning JoJo radio show. "We want to be able to use the 12th man in the stand to help us win that game so that we could move forward to the next round. This is a historical game. We’ve never [had] a U.S. federation or association team play against Antigua in Antigua.”
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA ROSTER:
GOALKEEPERS (3):Molvin James (Antigua Barracuda FC), Keita De Castro (Antigua Barracuda FC), Brent Mohammed (FIT)
DEFENDERS (6):George Dublin (Antigua Barracuda FC), Akeem Thomas (Antigua Barracuda FC), Karanja Mack (Antigua Barracuda FC), Hazel Pyle (Antigua Barracuda FC), Marc Joseph (Kendal Town/ENG), Zaine Francis-Angol (Motherwell/SCO)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Tomarley Thomas (Antigua Barracuda FC), Luke Blakeley (Antigua Barracuda FC), Quinton Griffith (Antigua Barracuda FC), Randolph Burton (Antigua Barracuda FC), Mikele Leigertwood (Reading/ENG), Kieran Murtagh (Macclesfield Town/ENG)
FORWARDS (4):Peter Byers (Antigua Barracuda FC), Stefan Smith (Antigua Barracuda FC), Dexter Blackstock (Nott. Forest/ENG), Moses Ashikodi (Ebbstfleet United/ENG)
SHORT-HANDED CHAPINES.Guatemala opened training camp for its final two games a week ago. With all but two players based at home or without a team, Chapines coach Ever Hugo Almeida had the luxury of starting his preparations early, but it was who was absent from the camp, not who was in the 23-player squad, that was notable.
Guatemala is without three starting defenders from its first game against the USA. Carlos Gallardo, Elias Vasquezand Luis Rodriguez are all injured. In addition, Guatemalan-Colombian playmaker Alejandro Galindo injured his knee in training with his club, Independiente de Santa Fe, and has been sidelined since August.
The two Chapines without clubs are familiar to U.S. fans. Carlos Ruiz, was the 2002 MLS MVP with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the first of four MLS clubs he played for over eight seasons. Henry Lopez, whose goal eliminated the USA from 2011 Under-20 World Cup qualifying, lived in Manassas, Va., where he went to high school.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jaime Carbajal (Universidad de San Carlos), Cristian Alvarez (Municipal), Ricardo Jerez (Marquense)
DEFENDERS (6):Rafael Gonzalez (Malacateco), Ruben Morales (Coban Imperial), Erwin Morales (Comunicaciones), Claudio Albizuris (Municipal), Jonathan Wilson (Marquense), Lalin Lopez (Marquense)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Manuel Leon (Xelaju), Wilfred Velasquez (Comunicaciones), Carlos Figueroa (Comunicaciones), Jose Manuel Contreras (Comunicaciones), Sergio Trujillo (Municipal), Marco Tulio Ciani (Universidad de San Carlos), Gonzalo Romero (Marquense), Marco Pappa (Heerenveen/NED)
FORWARDS (6): Minor Ignacio Lopez (La Serena/CHL), Dwight Pezzarossi (Comunicaciones), Lester Ruiz (Suchitepequez), Mario Rodriguez (Municipal), Henry Lopez (unattached), Carlos Ruiz (unattached).
FRIDAY TV MARATHON.U.S. fans will be able to watch 28 World Cup qualifiers on Friday. Here are our picks for a 12-hour Friday soccer marathon (all times ET):
RUSSIA-PORTUGAL (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3, 10:55 am). Russia coach Fabio Capello was at least being honest when he was asked about Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, who should play after injuring his shoulder in Sunday's Clasico. "I was honestly hoping Ronaldo's injury proved more serious than it was. If he had been ruled out, it would have been that much easier for our defense."
SERBIA-BELGIUM (ESPN3, 2:30 pm) Group B could be Europe's most competitive group. Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic has been doing a balancing act, pleading for Belgrade supporters to get behind his young team but asking that they don't nuts. Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, who will be without Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini, insists the Red Devils have plenty of depth.
COLOMBIA-PARAGUAY (beIN SPORT en Espanol, 4:30 pm). Colombia hosts Paraguay in a battle of teams headed in the opposition direction. Led by Radamel Falcao, the Cafeteros swept their September qualifiers 4-0 and 3-1 to move into a tie for second place. Paraguay, a 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist, has lost four games in a row and fallen into the South American cellar with Bolivia.
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA-USA (beIN SPORT, 6:55 pm). Note that the game is only available live on the English-language version, not beIN SPORT en Espanol, which is more widely available on Comcast, the lone cable system to pick up the new network.
ARGENTINA-URUGUAY(beIN SPORT en Espanol 8 pm). Argentina-Uruguay is about as good as it gets. Uruguay captain Diego Lugano previewed the game this way: "If they have the world’s best frontline, led by [Lionel] Messi, Uruguay must have the second or third best, with [Luis] Suarez and [Diego] Forlan."
GUATEMALA-JAMAICA (beIN SPORT, 9:55 pm). The Reggae Boyz must get a result at the Estadio Mateo Flores if they want to ensure that they have some control of their own destiny when they host Antigua & Barbuda on Tuesday. U.S. and Guatemala wins on Friday mean that both teams will go through with a draw when they meet Tuesday in Kansas City.
(Click here for all Soccer America's Soccer on TV listings.)
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