Eusebio Blankendal to retain Bermuda captaincy for dead rubber against Cayman Islands
Eusebio Blankendal has been retained as Bermuda’s captain for their final World Cup qualifying group B match against the Cayman Islands tonight.
The Dandy Town left back took over the armband for the first time after Lejaun Simmons went off injured on Friday in the 6-0 defeat by Surinam that put paid to their World Cup qualifying hopes.
“Eusebio will captain the team with Lejaun unavailable,” Kyle Lightbourne, the Bermuda coach, told The Royal Gazette.
Simmons was appointed in the role on an interim basis after former captain Danté Leverock retired from international football last month.
The Devonshire Cougars forward’s first match wearing the armband lasted only 19 minutes before he was taken off on a stretcher with a recurring groin injury at the Frank Essed Stadion in Paramaribo.
“Very frustrating, didn’t think this injury will come back at a time like this,” Simmons said. “I felt as if I let the team down with my first thoughts going down with injury.
“My focus is now switched on to motivating the team to finish this campaign on a bright note.”
Reacting to Bermuda’s heavy defeat, Simmons added: “That match has no room for excuses but a lot to learn from with the new players coming in and experiencing international football.
“The team now knows the level we need to be at, but it’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves; more games are coming thick and fast.”
Simmons is now in a fitness battle to recover in time for the Concacaf Gold Cup preliminary-round qualifying fixture against Barbados next month.
He was due to have a scan yesterday to reveal the extent of the groin problem.
“I will do everything possible to get back to full fitness,” he said. “At the moment, it doesn’t seem too bad, but we will see.”
The winner of match against Barbados will take on Haiti or St Vincent & the Grenadines for the right to progress to the main event, where United States, Canada and Martinique await in group B.
All preliminary-round fixtures will be held on July 2, 3 and 6 at DRV PNK Stadium, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the home of Major League Soccer team Inter Miami.
Bermuda will be bidding to qualify for a second successive Gold Cup having made their debut in the tournament in 2019.
On that occasion the national team bowed out at the group stage after suffering 2-1 defeats by Costa Rica and Haiti before a 2-0 win over Nicaragua capped an outstanding campaign.
Bermuda’s preparations for the Cayman Islands tie at the IMG Academy Complex in Bradenton, Florida, were hindered by a late arrival in the United States.
“The flight back to the United States was delayed,” Lightbourne said. “We knew in advance that it was delayed, and then it got delayed a little further, so it has cost our recovery time to be a little tricky.”
Simmons says his fellow team-mates are up for the match. “Our next task is a must-win and I know the players will be hungry to go on the pitch and put on a good performance,” he added.
“In reality, we know the standard we need to be at. This is an opportunity to limit mistakes, put on a performance that the country deserves and take it into the Gold Cup qualifying matches in July.”