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Lightbourne to build on valiant displays

Bursting with pride: Kyle Lightbourne, the Bermuda coach

It is a glowing reflection of how far Bermuda have come that Kyle Lightbourne, the team’s coach, wore a look of disappointment when he shared his post-match musings with the assembled hacks at the Toyota Stadium on Thursday night.

His side had just made a glorious exit from the Concacaf Gold Cup, the nation’s first appearance at the biennial competition, after losing 2-1 to regional heavyweights Costa Rica.

That is the same Costa Rica to have reached four of the past five World Cups, the same Costa Rica who are ranked 39th in the world, 135 places above Bermuda, the same Costa Rica who thrashed Nicaragua 4-0 in their opening group B game.

There had been fears, at least from outside this close-knit group, this band of brothers, that Bermuda could be in danger of suffering a similar fate to Cuba, who were ruthlessly dispatched 7-0 by Mexico in group A last weekend.

Lightbourne had referenced that match in his press conference on Wednesday, insisting his side, whose average age of 24 is the joint youngest in the tournament, would be bold, brave and ambitious.

He was true to his word.

“I’m very proud of the team and I can’t ask for more other than to take our [scoring] chances,” said Lightbourne, whose team lost 2-1 to Haiti in the group opener. “The players are disappointed about the result, but we know there’s a bigger picture.

“The work is just beginning and we have to stay at this level in order to keep improving.

“You always worry that a team like Costa Rica can blow you away in 20 minutes, but we managed the game in the right way and learnt from the other night against Haiti.

“People all around the world will have taken notice of some of Bermuda’s players. We’re a small country, but we have big hearts.”

There has been much talk at this tournament of Bermuda’s new-found professionalism, largely down to the swells of players they now have earning a living from the game overseas.

Nahki Wells, the team’s most experienced player, however, was more fulsome in his praise of the non-professionals such as goalkeeper Dale Eve and defenders Jaylon Bather, Donte Brangman and Calon Minors.

The Burnley forward believes many of them now deserve a chance to join him in the professional ranks.

“I’m extremely proud of my team-mates,” Wells said. “Some of those who are not in professional environments have been the best players for us at this tournament. They have really stood up.

“They have competed against two fully professional teams and have shown they are equally as good as players who are earning a living from football.”

Despite scoring a penalty against Costa Rica, Wells said he has been frustrated by his lack of sharpness in front of goal, having missed good chances in both group games.

“I’m frustrated I didn’t get a goal from open play,” he said. “I’m happy to score a penalty, but that’s not enough and it’s frustrating.

“We had the momentum against Costa Rica; I felt if anyone was going to score it was going to be us.

“We can definitely come out of this with our heads held high and our competition is not done yet. The world now knows what we’re capable of.”

Danté Leverock, the Bermuda captain, believes his team-mates have more than proven they belong at the elite level of regional football.

Having asked serious questions of Haiti and Costa Rica, Leverock is confident Bermuda can claim their first Gold Cup scalp when they face Nicaragua in their final outing at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, on Monday.

“I got a bit emotional when I told the players that I’m proud of them,” the Sligo Rovers defender said. “We now want to beat Nicaragua. It will be like a home game for us as we’ll have a lot of fans there.

“We’re a young team, but we’ve been together for a long time. We’re a close-knit group, we’re like brothers and we’re here to stay. This isn’t a one-off from us. You’ll see us again.”