Dominant Bermuda make Gold Cup history
Bermuda 2 Nicaragua 0
Bermuda ensured they did not return home empty-handed after thoroughly dominating Nicaragua to finish their maiden Concacaf Gold Cup campaign on a high.
Kyle Lightbourne’s side made real statement against the Central Americans and were fully deserving of their historic victory, which left them in third in group B behind Costa Rica and Haiti, the two qualifiers.
Lejuan Simmons justified his recall with a splendid showing out wide, scoring the opening goal in the 60th minute with a well-taken effort.
Nahki Wells then increased the advantage in the 71st minute with a neat header after excellent work by Simmons down the left flank.
There was an eerily familiar storyline to the first half, with Bermuda dominating their opponents, with some eye-catching interplay, crafting several good scoring opportunities.
However, just as they did against Haiti and Costa Rica in their previous outings, they lacking the killer instinct, failing to capitalise on their eight efforts at goal.
They looked dangerous throughout the opening stanza, hitting Nicaragua on the counter-attack time and time again, and should have gone into the interval with at least a two-goal lead.
Lightbourne made three changes from the side that lost 2-1 to Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, on Thursday.
Marco Warren replaced the out-of-sorts Reggie Lambe, Calon Minors came in for Jalen Harvey, while Milan Butterfield made way for Simmons.
Minors picked up a yellow card against Haiti in Bermuda’s opener in San José, Costa Rica, last weekend, while Lambe struggled in the two previous games and missed an excellent scoring chance against Costa Rica.
The Cambridge United forward looked visibly dejected when he returned to the team bus after the Costa Rica match, leaving the dressing room well before the rest of his team-mates.
Although the game was sparsely attended, the dead rubber was certainly more of a home match for Bermuda, with groups of pink-and-blue shirts scattered throughout the stadium.
Among those in the crowd were Randy Horton, the former New York Cosmos and Bermuda striker, and Derek Broadley, the former Bermuda Football Association technical director, who helped in 2009 to form the National Academy, which has produced the bulk of this Gold Cup squad.
Bermuda created the first chance in the third minute when Minors’s cross from the left was only partially cleared, the ball falling to Willie Clemons, who took a touch before driving the ball against the outside of a post from the edge of the box.
Moments later, Nicaragua’s Luis Galaeno had a weak shot from just outside the area easily saved by Dale Eve, the Bermuda goalkeeper.
It was Bermuda who looked the sharper of the two teams, Wells driving into the area before curling a left-footed shot harmlessly over the crossbar after good work by Zeiko Lewis.
Wells then turned provider, crossing from left for Simmons, who should have done far better with a header from close range.
Chants of “Hood, Hood, Hood” rang out around the stadium in reference to Simmons’s club side, Robin Hood, with the winger going close again with a shot from the right-hand side of the box that sailed well over.
Bermuda were purring, cutting Nicaragua apart almost at will, Clemons winning the ball in the middle of the park before releasing Wells clear on goal. However, the island’s talisman was deemed to be offside.
Wells had another opportunity after Lewis picked up the ball deep inside his half, running at the Nicaragua defence before finding the Burnley man whose dinked attempt was slowed by goalkeeper Henry Maradiaga and then superbly cleared off the line by defender Manuel Rosa.
Nicaragua were having their moments, too, with Eve having to awkwardly punch away a low, outswinging cross. The energetic Clemons was then on hand to outmuscle Bryon Bonilla with an excellent challenge inside the box.
Simmons showed admirable perseverance to beat his man, his cross from the right taking a deflection and looping into the box, allowing Wells to ghost in with a header that was pushed behind for a corner by Maradiaga.
From the ensuing flag kick, Warren forced another corner with a strike from the edge of the area.
The diminutive midfielder then curled a left-footed shot into the side-netting before Lewis forced a fine save from Maradiaga, diving low to his left to push the ball out of play.
Once again, Bermuda had started the first half strongly, just as they did against Haiti and Costa Rica, crafting several chances, but had little to show for their efforts at half-time.
Ray Jones, the Bermuda assistant coach, received a booking just before the interval, jumping off the bench and gesturing wildly after a throw-in decision went against his side.
Eve was called into action early in the second period, pushing away a shot from Jorge Betancur from distance.
Lightbourne was forced into his first change of the evening when injured left back Minors was replaced by Harvey in the 53rd minute.
Nicaragua seemed to be rejuvenated after the break and Eve had to be alert to keep out a left-footed effort from Juan Barrera after he cut inside the box.
Bermuda scored somewhat against the run of play in the 61st minute when Simmons latched on to a through-ball from Osagi Bascome, outpacing Jose Quijano before opening up his body to place the ball into the far bottom corner. Maradiaga got a hand to it, but it was not enough to keep the ball out.
Bermuda doubled their lead in the 71st minute when Wells got the goal from open play he was looking for, heading home a delightful cross from Simmons from the left.
The superb Simmons then made way for Cecoy Robinson, the team’s oldest player at 31, who almost scored with his first touch of the ball; his effort was smothered by the outrushing Maradiaga.
Henry Duarte, the Nicaragua coach, made two changes in effort to get his team back into the match, bringing on Camphers Perez and Daniel Cadena for Rosas and Galeano.
Looking to shore things up, Lightbourne then introduced defensive player Roger Lee for Warren in the 79th minute.
Bonilla almost got his side back into the match with a fierce left-footed strike that drifted just wide of Eve’s right-hand post.
Bermuda: Simmons 60, Wells 71
Bermuda (4-2-3-1): D Eve — D Brangman, D Leverock, J Bather, C Minors (sub: J Harvey, 53min) — O Bascome, W Clemons — L Simmons (sub: C Robinson, 70), M Warren (sub: R Lee, 79), Z Lewis — N Wells. Substitutes not used: C Basden, J Smith, J Hill, M Butterfield, J Donawa, T Ming, R Lambe, L Evans, Q Hunt. Booked: Simmons.
Nicaragua (4-1-4-1): H Maradiaga — J Quijano, O Lopez, L Copete, M Rosas (sub: C Perez, 70) — K Serapio — J Barrera, R Punyed (sub: A Gkoufas, 63), L Galeano, B Nilla — J Betancur. Substitutes not used: J Lorente, R Moncada, D Cadena, J Pineda, C Perez, F Flores, A Cano, B Torres. Booked: Serapio, Bonilla.
Referee: A Escobedo Gonzalez (Mexico).