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Heroes’ welcome for Bermuda

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Zenawi Bowen, Jahtino Richardson-Martin and the under 20 National Team, return home to a warm reception (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Bermuda Under-20 squad, minus ten members who either returned to their college or to clubs in England, returned home last night as Government, football officials and family members hailed their success in Curaçao.

Bermuda, captained by Kacy Milan Butterfield, clinched third place in the Caribbean Football Union Under-20 Championship after beating the previous winners Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 in a play-off at the Stadion Ergilio Hato last weekend.

Substitute Mikiel Thomas scored the winner four minutes from time to seal Bermuda’s best finish in the competition.

Coach Kyle Lightbourne’s team will now turn their attention to the Concacaf Under-20 Championship in Costa Rica in February, a spot they clinched after finishing runners-up in group A.

Bermuda will enter the tournament along with the CFU champions Haiti, runners-up Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad, and St Kitts and Nevis, who will join Mexico, the United States and Canada from the North American Region along with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from Central American.

Lightbourne was just as pleased with the players’ deportment off the field as their performances on it and said they had made their country proud.

“The main thing we were trying to get across to our guys was to respect the game,” said Lightbourne, shortly after returning home along with seven members of the squad.

“We’ve still got a long way to go but it was really good for the guys to be able to play at that level. The tournament brought pressure in itself as we tried to make it to the next round, and we managed to do that.

“It was tough for us, the colleges are in the peak of their season and the last captain we had, Liam Evans, wasn’t available as well as Detre [Bell], the goalkeeper.

“But everyone played their part in this tournament. It just shows the depth we have with the replacements.”

Lightbourne said he hoped to have a full strength squad to pick from for the next phase of the competition, which will determine the teams that qualify for the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea in 2017.

“Tahzeiko Harris, the big centre half from Somerset [Trojans], was a miss and there were a few others who weren’t able to come,” Lightbourne added.

“We’re going to try to get in contact with everyone and those who were on the tour definitely put themselves in position, so credit to them.

“With the technical director, Maurice Lowe, we’re going to sit down and see what we can do better, but there’s a lot more to come from the under-20s. We played five games in two weeks and it was very demanding.

“We had 17 players to pick from and I must say all the players were well behaved on the tour, which is a credit to their families. I had no problems with them whatsoever.”

Watching the team perform brought back memories for Lightbourne of his own playing days in 1990 and 1991 when Bermuda had a strong run in the World Cup qualifying campaign. He was only slightly older than some of the players he coached in Curaçao.

“We’ve got a lot to play for and it’s going to be difficult for our guys in the next round,” Lightbourne said. “I come back tonight and the first thing the David Sabir [the Bermuda Football Association general secretary] said is that I have to go to Costa Rica this month to prepare for the tournament, the coaches and heads of delegation.”

Nandi Outerbridge, the Junior Minister for Sport, was at the airport to welcome back the team along with Mark Wade, the BFA president.

Proudly wearing his bronze medal, Jahtino Richardson-Martin, the Dandy Town midfielder, hailed his team-mates efforts in Curaçao.

“When we got into the semi-finals we wanted to do more than finish third, we wanted to win the whole tournament,” he said. “We’re unlucky that we didn’t. We faced Haiti in the semi-finals and after that we had to play for the third-place spot. We wanted to come back with the third-place medals around our necks.”

Bermuda goalkeeper Jahquil Hill celebrates Bermuda's win
Bermuda Under-20 coach Kyle Lightbourne