Lightbourne: Golden journey has just begun
Dominican Republic 1 Bermuda 3
Bermuda came from behind to secure an historic 3-1 win over Dominican Republic in their final Concacaf Nations League qualifier at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago yesterday.
After falling behind to a fortuitous third-minute strike from Enmy Pena, Bermuda rallied with Zeiko Lewis equalising shortly after, before second-half goals from Nahki Wells and substitute Justin Donawa clinched Bermuda’s place at the Gold Cup for the first time.
Bermuda finished fifth in the standings.
Kyle Lightbourne, the Bermuda coach, said achieving the feat of qualifying for the Gold Cup was just the beginning of his team’s journey.
“An emotional day for us, the coaching staff and the players, and hats off to everyone that made the trip down to watch the game,” Lightbourne said.
“This is the beginning of a journey for us and we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We will enjoy the moment and we have to move forward now. We have to raise our level because we are going to a new level.”
Lightbourne singled out Willie Clemons for special praise after his effervescent performance in the Bermuda’s midfield engine room.
“The game plan was to deny them the space in the wide areas, force them inside where we had the trap set to pinch the ball off of them,” Lightbourne added.
“Willie Clemons was immense for us; he was ready for anything and broke up the play. Our class showed going forward.
“Our first two goals were what we consider Bermuda goals. For their third goal. we pinch it off of them, it ricochets to a fresh man [Donawa] comes on the field and he finishes the job off. Well done to everyone.”
Danté Leverock said he was “lost for words” after captaining Bermuda to one of their most memorable victories.
“It’s an amazing feeling; it doesn’t feel real,” Leverock said. “I’m so proud of the players and staff. It’s a massive achievement. An amazing feeling, I’m still lost for words. We are in the Gold Cup!”
Bermuda conceded when Pena whipped over a curling cross from the right that dipped inside of Dale Eve’s far post.
However, Bermuda quickly regrouped and began to stretch the home side with their attacking intent.
Miguel Lloyd, the Dominican goalkeeper, positioned himself well to deny Lewis, who produced Bermuda’s first shot on target.
There would be no denying the Charleston Battery winger, however, when he finished off an excellent move to bring the teams level moments later.
Reggie Lambe played the ball through to Lejaun Simmons whose cross in the middle left Lewis with a simple tap-in at the back post.
Bermuda should have taken the lead when Lewis released Lambe, but the Cambridge United forward fired tamely into the arms of the onrushing Lloyd.
That Bermuda went unpunished for the missed chance owed much to Donte Brangman’s timely tackle in his own box to deny Edarlyn Rejes a free look at goal at the end of first half.
Bermuda started the second half on the front foot and squandered another golden opportunity to go ahead.
Simmons got behind the defence but fired wide from 12 yards from a slight angle with only the goalkeeper to beat.
By now Bermuda were in full control and the goal their dominance warranted finally arrived with a touch of finesse from Wells.
The Queens Park Rangers loanee held off his marker to reach Lewis’s pass in the box and took a touch before firing in off the near post to put Bermuda ahead.
Donawa, the Columbus Crew forward, then leapt from the bench to put the game beyond reach.
He gained possession before dribbling into open space before unleashing a low shot from outside of the box inside of the bottom right hand corner to signal game over.
The Gold Cup, which will be held from June 15 to July 7 in the United States, is a biennial competition for teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Dominican Republic 1
Lewis 15, Wells 64, Donawa 74
Dominican Republic (3-5-2): M Lloyd — C Bonín, L Lucas, C Martínez (sub: J Carlos, 75min) — L Martinez, E Rejes, V Espinal, C Heredia, E Peña, E Rodríguez, E Paniagua (sub: F Nunez, 69). Substitutes not used: J Guzman, O Baez, J Bueno, E Ozura, W Modesta, R Gonzalez, L Espinal, R Dabas, R Flores. Booked: Paniagua.
Bermuda (4-4-2): D Eve — C Minors, J Bather, D Leverock, R Lee (sub: M Butterfield, 52) — D Brangman, W Clemons, L Simmons (sub: J Donawa, 69), Z Lewis (sub: C Robinson, 78) — R Lambe, N Wells. Substitutes not used: J Hill, Q Hunt, D Usher, W White, M Warren, O Bascome, L Evans, J Smith, J Furbert. Booked; Bather, Lee, Wells.
Referee: P Senecharles (Haiti).