By William Ysaguirre
The Gallos Blancos players’ long faces said it all as they left the locker room to board the bus for home.
Ecstatic Verdes FC’ fans continued their celebration in the stands after the “Green Machine’s scoreless draw with the Gallos from the Mexican state of Queretaro.
It was their first encounter of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Federations (CONCACAF) Champions’ League, to a sold-out capacity audience at the FIFA Goal Project stadium in Belmopan on Tuesday night, August 16.
Verdes FC of Benque Viejo, the2015 Premier League of Belize champions, proved they were no pushovers and averted a loss on their home turf!
Although Verdesscored no goals and picked up only one point, the draw was a victory of sorts for Verdes FC, which has not participated in CONCACAF Champions league since 1986, when they fell 0-6 in both matches against Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
The visitors and their technical director Victor Manuel Vucetich were confounded by the result; as Gallos Blancos had come to town clearly expecting a crushing win. Reports in the Mexican media had suggested the Queretaro eleven would trundle over the Verdes newcomers, just as they had blown away the Panamanian champions San Francisco FC 2-0 at the Corregidora Stadium in Queretaro on August 4.
The renowned striker Antonio “Sinha” Nelson, of Toluca fame, led the visitors’ offensive along with Danilo “Danilinho” Veron and Luis Madrigal, supported by Jonathan Bornstein and Marion “Mono” Osuna on the wings and Luis Noriega at midfield. This top-heavy offensive had ample opportunities to produce the expected six goals.
Indeed there were two occasions in the first half when Verdes’ Honduran goalkeeper Benito Moreira had committed himself and was down on the ground; as the ball rolled across the open goal. But no one could reach the ball to complete the play for a goal.
The same happened late in the second half when Moriera was down, and the visitors had the ball in the goal area, but the striker, in his eagerness to punctuate the win, instead sent the ball sailing over the crossbar!
Benito Moreira was on top of his game, making no less than six saves on hard shots on goal. The wily Moriera was also not above playing possum, feigning injury on the ground to run down the clock and allow his teammates a few minutes respite.
The medics came on to the field with a stretcher more than once, and Coach Vucetich belabored this point in the post game press conference, saying Moreira had been down on the ground at least six times, that FIFA Fair Play would have required for Moriera to be sanctioned for ‘diving’ to the turf when he was not hurt.
Verdes’ fans were somewhat disappointed that no goals had come from Belize’s most prolific striker Deon McCaulay, nor the explosive Jarret Davis, nor even from the wingers: Brazilian import Yoras Silva and Mexican import Jesus “Chui” Patino nor the midfielders San Leobardo Mendez and Nahjib Guerra, all of whom have scored goals in the PLB competition.
McCaulay was consistently double-teamed by the visitors and got off only one shot at goal late in the second half, which was smothered by the goalkeeper Edgar Hernandez.
Verdes’ technical director Walter Salazar explained this shortfall at the post game press conference, saying both McCaulay and Davis had not been working out with the team for the past fortnight; as they had been recovering from injuries, having undergone physiotherapy just the Thursday before. Their other Brazilian import Alcides “Paco” Thomas was recuperating from surgery, and their African import was recovering from a kick to his groin.
Juan Daniel Forlin led the visitors’ defense, with the help of Edgar “Pajaro” Benitez. Victor Milke and Jaime Gomez, and they had their work cut out to contain Davis and Yora Silva, who raised the fans’ excitement when he blasted in two shots at goal, unfortunately the ball went outside the uprights.
Verdes’ attacks also won several corner kicks and Verdes’ speed cause the defender to blunder into errors, earning yellow card reprimands for Mario Osuna, Jaime Gomez and Jonathan Bornstein.
Conditioned for the thin air at Queretaro’s 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level, the visitors were super-oxygenated, but the heat told on them. Wilson Tiago relieved Osuna in the second half; Ricardo Razo replaced Danilo Veron, and Kevin Gutierrez substituted for Bornstein.
Verdes also introduced Delroy “Thinman” Andrews to relieve Patino; and Richard “Cheety” Jimenez came off the bench to replace Nahjib Guerra.
Verdes may not have won the game, but t won the visitors’ grudging respect, voiced by goalkeeper Edgar Hernandez to the Belize media after the game.
He admitted his tteam had failed to take advantage of the scoring chances they had, and that the Verdes players while not as technically proficient as the Gallos, had played all out, that theynever stopped running; as winning the game was more important to them. He promised the second game in Queretaro will be a horse of a different color.
That it will be; for thinner air and less oxygen at 6,000 feet above sea level will definitely by a factor for the Verdes players, many of whom experienced nose-bleeds when they played three practice friendlies at a similar altitude in Guatemala’s Xelaju, Quetzaltenango.
For another, they will not have the same referees; the Jamaican referees were very understanding and sympathetic, allowing Moriera to take his time on the ground when he was ‘hurt’. To compete against the Gallos, who are already conditioned to Queretaro’s rarefied atmosphere, Verdes players would need to spend the next month living and training in Quetzaltenango, to build up their red blood cell count and condition their bodies for the altitude.
The Gallos travel to Panama for a rematch with San Francisco FC on August 26, before Verdes visits Queretaro for their rematch on September 17th.