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Cox expecting close encounter

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What a feeling: Sam Cox, the Guyana captain, celebrates his team’s qualification for the Concacaf Gold Cup after they defeated Belize 2-1 in their final Nations League qualifier in Leonara, Guyana, in March

Sam Cox, Guyana’s captain, has warned Bermuda that they are in for a competitive encounter when the two “evenly matched” sides meet tomorrow.

Ahead of both nations making their debut at the Gold Cup this month, the teams will go head-to-head at the National Stadium in an opportunity to cast an eye over personnel within their respective 23-man squads and tweak systems and formations before the start of the biennial event starting June 15.

Despite the friendly nature of the match, Cox is anticipating a close-fought encounter with his side ranked just two places below Bermuda in 22nd in the Concacaf rankings, having finished seventh in the Nations League qualifiers, as well as boasting the experience of a host of their squad plying their trade overseas at professional and non-League level, much like the home side.

“We are pretty similar teams in terms of where the players have come from and really it’s pretty equal levels of what both teams have achieved over the last 12 months,” said Cox, who came through the youth ranks at Tottenham Hotspur, before playing across the football pyramid at clubs such as Torquay United, Barnet and most recently on loan at Hampton and Richmond Borough.

“We are aware of a good number of their squad having played in England and from doing our homework. However, we will be competitive as well. Primarily we are using the game to build on our set up with a view to the Gold Cup, but we will be treating it as a competitive fixture and one we are looking forward to.

“The players are all switched on for the match and it is a brilliant opportunity to show what we are all about.”

Guyana could certainly pose a stern test for Bermuda. They have no shortage of professional experience in former Crystal Palace midfielder Neil Danns, Terence Vancooten, of Stevenage, Liam Gorden and Elliot Bonds, of Dagenham and Redbridge, and FC Cincinnati striker Emery Welshman, who scored the pivotal goal in their 2-1 victory over Belize to clinch their historic Gold Cup qualification. It is a factor which defender Cox believes is imperative in Guyana’s recent progression and will allow them to be more than adept at nullifying Bermuda’s professional players, including talisman Nahki Wells.

“If you look at the structure of the league in Guyana it probably isn’t at the level it should be for us to continue developing,” Cox added. “We need that experience of playing overseas and I’m sure a lot of the lads have dreams of doing that. It’s a great target to have and we all want to better our careers.

“However, I’ve been playing in England since I was a kid and coming through the ranks at Tottenham I had the chance to play against and train with some of the top players in the world. Playing against Nahki will be a good challenge, but it is one that we won’t be fazed by.”

Although Cox is expecting a competitive encounter, head coach Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham City and Derby County defender, is far more concerned with the opportunity of casting his eye over his entire squad and trying new systems.

“It is a completely different mentality to just winning,” said Johnson, whose side will face host nation United States, as well as Trinidad & Tobago and Panama in group D of the 16-team tournament.

“It is a progression period to make sure we are ready for the Gold Cup, not Thursday’s match. Are we going to go out and show our formation and personnel that will be starting at the Gold Cup, absolutely not. It would be wrong to do that knowing that the US, Panama and Trinidad will all more than likely looking at this game to see what we do.

“What I do want is to see us moving and progressing in the right way and that the players are looking sharp and physically ready in the formation we play.

“It is not about our strongest team as of yet, that will come at the Gold Cup, this will be about looking at partnerships and to see what is clicking as a unit.

“We will be using the game to bring people in and have a look at the whole squad. It might turn out we make wrong decisions but that is why we are doing it now because it is a friendly.

“Everything is about preparing for the first match at the Gold Cup.”

Making history: from left – Danté Leverock, the Bermuda captain, Kyle Lightbourne, the Bermuda head coach, Michael Johnson, the Guyana head coach, and Sam Cox, the Guyana captain, at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence yesterday. Also pictured is Antoine Augustus of the Bermuda Football Association