By William Ysaguirre
Free Lance Reporter
The Football Federation of Belize, FFB, at a press conference at its headquarters in Belmopan on Thursday, February 26, introduced Belize’s National “A” Team: the Jaguars, who will represent the Jewel in the first round of the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The Jaguars’ first test comes on Wednesday night, March 25, at the FIFA Goal Project Stadium in Belmopan where they will host the Cayman Islands in the first game of a home and away series. The winner advances to the second round against Dominica.
FFB President, Ruperto Vicente took the opportunity to introduce the new national team Head Coach, Jorge Nunez, a native of Brazil and football veteran with impeccable coaching credentials. Nunez has been coaching in Belize for the past 15 years, during which the teams he has coached have won nine championships. These teams included Juventus and Alpha FC of Orange Walk, Calcutta Bulls, the Orange Walk Eagles in the FFB A tournament, and Wagiya among others. Nunez also coached the national under-17 team. He had also played professionally for 25 years and had coached professionally in Guatemala before he moved to Belize.
Carlos Slusher had parted ways with the FFB during the run-up to the Jaguars’ participation in the Gold Cup USA through disagreement with the then head coach, Ian Mork, but Slusher is back in the FFB fold; as he is now Nunez’s assistant coach. Vicente said let bygones be bygones, to whatever differences Slusher might have had with the FFB in the past; he said the FFB would not overlook or ignore a Belizean coach of Slusher’s standing.
Vicente also introduced Belmopan Area Representative and Minister of National Security, John Saldivar as the National Team Coordinator. Saldivar has been involved in football for several years as he is also the owner of the Belmopan Bandits franchise, and the Bandits have won three of the last four Premier League of Belize football championships. It is no coincidence that 13 of the 30 national team players are also Bandits.
The pitch of the stadium is now finally ready, after it produced so much controversy last year when its state of unreadiness cost the national champions, the Belmopan Bandits, their chance of participating in the CONCACAF Champions of Champions’ League. Vicente said the FFB had invested over $100,000 in getting it ready, and Mr. Anthony Chanona had worked on the project to ensure the pitch had proper turf, which had passed inspection when the CONCACAF officials came to inspect it in January. He did not comment or even allude to the previous contractor’s inability to have the pitch ready on time last year.
Vicente said the Stadium is in a complete FIFA state of readiness to host all FIFA and CONCACAF matches, and should no longer be an obstacle to the Belizean national champions participating in CONCACAF Champions’ League. He said the FFB had addressed all issues raised by CONCACAF in the past, including expansion of the locker rooms, the stadium lighting and seating.
For the upcoming World Cup game with the Cayman Islands, the FFB will sell seats, as FIFA rules do not permit for any spectator to stand. Accordingly, the bleachers of the stadium have been demarcated into individual seats and assigned numbers; and each seat for the March 25th game will be sold for $50.