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Thompson still wonders what might have been

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Kenny Thompson still wonders what might have been.

What might have been had a controversial refereeing decision not cost Bermuda dear in their pursuit of World Cup qualifying glory.

In 2008, Thompson's side came within a hair's breadth of sending Trinidad crashing out of a competition they had journeyed to the finals of just two years earlier.

With 25 minutes left and the score 2-2 on aggregate, Bermuda were on the brink of a famous triumph having scored one more away goal than their star-studded opponents.

But then with the Soca Warriors dancing to the Gombeys' tune the hosts conceded a dangerous free-kick near the corner flag, triggering a chaotic chain of events.

Inexplicably, referee Carlos Batres allowed the set-piece to be taken while Bermuda were in the midst of making a substitution, leaving them at a numerical disadvantage to defend the ensuing delivery.

At the precise moment Stern John's header punctured Bermuda's dreams, Kwame Steede was still in the process of dragging his tired limbs from the pitch. His replacement Jemeiko Jennings hadn't even managed to reach the penalty box to take up his position.

Thompson was incensed; more than 5,000 home spectators were silenced; a nation was paralysed in astonishment.

Even now Thompson refers to the disputed goal as “that moment”. His sense of injustice and defiance has hardly dimmed.

“Every time I see a substitution on television it brings me back to that moment against Trinidad,” admits Thompson. “I couldn't believe a referee at that level, who had refereed the World Club final between Barcelona and FC Internazionale, could mismanage a substitution so badly.

“He allowed the free-kick to be taken before the substitution was even complete. Our player coming off hadn't even left the pitch, so obviously our players were not fully ready at that moment.

“That was the turning point because up until then we were managing the game well. You get over these things but it's difficult not to think about what could have been.”

During Bermuda's World Cup qualifying post-mortem, Thompson was critisised by some quarters for ill-advisedly making a substitution when Bermuda were on the back foot and defending a set-piece.

That argument holds little water for Thompson, who plants the blame for his team's painful exit firmly at the feet of referee Batres.

“I've heard people say 'you should never make a substitution when you're defending a free-kick or corner', but that's absolute rubbish,” he said.

“If you watch substitutions at the top level, almost every time the referee allows the player to get into position in the box and only then does the game resume. We're not talking about a Sunday afternoon kickabout in Bermuda, we're talking about a World Cup qualifier.”

A week earlier Thompson had masterminded a memorable 2-1 victory in Port of Spain; a victory he still regards as the proudest moment of his coaching career.

He freely admits Dame Fortune was smiling sweetly upon his side on that scorching afternoon at the Marvin Lee Stadium, but takes nothing away from his players who extracted every ounce of effort from their battle-weary bodies.

“It was an amazing evening in Trinidad and to come out with that result was a tremendous feeling,” said Thompson, now the Football Director at BAA Wanderers.

“We did ride our luck a little bit along the way, and there was some sloppy finishing by Trinidad, but crucially we stayed mentally strong during some difficult times.

“To go there and win was my best moment as a coach in international football bearing in mind Trinidad had qualified for the previous World Cup.”

The end: A Bermuda player is despondent after losing to Trinidad
Flashback: Premier Ewart Brown hugs Bermuda manager Kenny Thompson following the heartbreaking defeat to Trinidad and Tobago in 2008. Below (left) how The Royal Gazette reported the 2-0 loss on June 23, and (right) a disconsolate Domico Coddington.

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Published September 02, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated September 02, 2011 at 10:18 am)

Thompson still wonders what might have been

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