They were written off as over-matched after a 6-1 crushing by the United States on Tuesday, and were reeling from a series of crises that would break lesser men – the travails of a mentor locked up in jail; a teammate facing a devastating loss at home; and the pressure and expectations from a nation of 300,000 “coaches” who lived and died with their every move. But the Belize national men’s football team set out to prove the doubters wrong on Saturday versus Costa Rica – and guess what, they almost did. The Ticos, who started their run to the Central American title with a 1-0 shutout of the Jaguars on home soil in January, could be forgiven for thinking Belize was just another speed bump en route to Gold Cup success. But they had not counted on a stubbornness and resourcefulness that marked the eleven men who took the field on Saturday. Woodrow West replaced Shane Moody-Orio in goal, Dalton Eiley returned to the side and Michael Salazar started in place of Danny Jimenez, who flew home just in time to learn the sad news of his mother Teresita’s passing on Friday. The first half saw many chances for Costa Rica, but a 9th minute tally by Kenny Cunningham off a pass from Jairo Arrieta was ruled out for offside by Surinamese referee Enrico Wijngaarde, and Arrieta then shot straight at West in the 27th after being played in by Celso Borges. Evan Mariano then missed wide for Belize in the 31st. In the 49th minute of the second half it was disaster for the Belizeans as team captain Eiley, trying to clear off a cross from Cunningham at the edge of the box, deflected it past West into his own net. He could not get to that one, but West made some other terrific saves from the likes of Alvaro Saborio, Ariel Rodriguez and Michael Barrantes, and prevented a second own-goal in the 77th after Elroy Smith could not get to a deflected ball that was shot by Osvaldo Rodriguez. Trevor Lennon, who hit one of Belize’s 2 against Nicaragua, was nearly hero again in the final minute of injury time when he headed in off a corner kick only to see it cleared and Costa Rica escape. After the match, head coach Ian Mork expressed his pride in his players. The following interview comes courtesy Krem Television
Ian Mork – Head Coach:
[I’m] very proud. We really needed to get a point out of this game though. 3 points would have been great, but we knew that we needed to get a point to increase our chances of other events, which is what were trying to do here. I’m extremely proud of the players. They did an outstanding job. We have to look on to the next match now, and think about three points from Cuba. We had to make some changes because of some unforeseen circumstances. We also had a player that was healthy that we needed to get into the line-up, Dalton Eiley. I couldn’t say right now about the next game. We need to assess where everyone’s at, and see where we are as a group. From what I understand with Makin it was just cramps. He just was cramping up too much. So he must have been dehydrated, which is really unfortunate because he was playing a great game. Again, our team, they can play on any given day, and I’m just proud that they showed everyone they can do that.
The win saw Costa Rica join the United States in the quarterfinals. Belize can still make it there too, but first they must hope for no shocks in group B between Haiti, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras and then beat Cuba tomorrow, Tuesday. That match starts at 3:30 p.m.