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Denkins: Bermuda have nothing to lose

Photograph by Lawrence TrottMaking a splash: Danni Watson, the Bermuda Under-17 girls’ captain, tries to block a left-footed shot from Bermuda Under-15 player Athio Burgess which crashed against the crossbar during a practice match at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence on Wednesday night

Bermuda will face a tough must-win match against the United States when the Concacaf Under-17 Women’s Championship resumes in Florida next week.

Bermuda depart on Monday and two days later take on the US in their second group B match in the qualifying tournament, which was interrupted five weeks ago in Nicaragua.

Coach Aaron Denkins’s team, played just one of their group matches in Nicaragua, losing 3-0 to Canada, before the tournament came to an end because of violent protests in the Central American country.

The tournament will continue at the IMG Academy Stadium in Bradenton, Florida, with Bermuda playing their final group match against Costa Rica next Friday to determine the two teams who join Mexico and Haiti, the top two from group A, in the semi-finals.

The two semi-final winners and the winners of the third-place match will advance to the Under-17 World Cup, which is scheduled for Uruguay in November.

Just two matches were played in group B before the tournament was halted for security reasons, with the United States beating Costa Rica 4-0. The US top the group on goal difference and Denkins knows they will be an extremely difficult team to beat.

“The US have been to this tournament six times and won it three times, so as debutants we really have to manage our expectations against them,” Denkins said.

“We have the youngest team in the tournament also, so it will be tough. The players have done a great job qualifying and their collective mindsets are in the right space to give their best.

“One of our main goals is to create the framework for us to continue to progress to this level of tournament and to compete more with the top teams in the region.

“As you can imagine the player pool and available budgets for these countries dwarfs ours, but Bermuda football and Bermudians have a tradition of finding ways to compete and we will continue the tradition.”

Two rounds of matches were completed in group A where, mathematically, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua have been eliminated after loses to Mexico and Haiti who have two wins each.

Puerto Rico and Nicaragua will not rejoin the tournament, with the remaining match between Mexico and Haiti to decide the group winners before they play a second time in the semi-final.

Denkins said there was little threat to the teams in Nicaragua as officials kept the players safe before securing flights out of the country. The Bermuda squad featured two players just 13 years old, Katelyn Medeiros and Zemira Webb.

“This group of players, although young, have travelled together for a while and are used to difficult situations,” Denkins said. “Even though there were some signs of the unrest the coaching staff, hotel staff and Concacaf officials made it as comfortable as possible for the players and they weren’t affected too much.

“Most of these girls have travelled with the under-20s and under-17’s before so they know the ins and outs of international competition.”

Bermuda’s players endured wet conditions during a practice match at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence on Wednesday.

“It takes a lot to get them off the field,” Denkins said. “They are focused and ready to go.

Bermuda will take the same squad to Florida, with the tournament rules only allowing for a change if a player is injured.

“We have no injury concerns with the existing roster,” Denkins added. “This is a tight-knit group and even when injured they support each other and train with the team.”