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Nahki Wells and Jonté Smith make striking statements of intent

Nahki Wells, seen in action against Panama in the Concacaf Nations League in 2019, is honoured to be wearing the captain's armband as he leads the Bermuda attack in tomorrow's night Gold Cup preliminary-round match against Barbados in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)

Returning pair Nahki Wells and Jonté Smith hope to make an impact when Bermuda begin their quest for a Concacaf Gold Cup spot tomorrow night against Barbados in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The two strikers were missing from Bermuda’s unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign which ended with a 6-0 loss to Surinam and a 1-1 draw against Cayman Islands in early June.

Now Bermuda, with Wells wearing the captain’s armband and former captain Danté Leverock back in the fold after a one-month retirement, will be looking to bounce back with a good result against Barbados. The winner will advance to take on either Haiti or St Vincent & the Grenadines for a place in the group stage.

Wells has not played for Bermuda in more than a year while Smith’s last international appearance was against Jamaica in a friendly in Montego Bay in March 2020.

He travelled as part of the squad for the last World Cup qualifiers, but an injury ruled him out of consideration.

“It’s so great to be back among the national squad,” the Woking forward said. “For a variety of different reasons, my playing time with Woking was interrupted towards the end of the season and I haven’t had the amount of playing time I would have liked.

“It’s great for me to have a competitive match to look forward to and hopefully if I’m needed I can participate.”

Bermuda have been on a disappointing run since suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss away to Mexico in the Nations League in November 2019, when the home team scored three minutes into stoppage time to confirm relegation to League B for Kyle Lightbourne’s men.

“If you go back to the Mexico match we were 30 seconds away from getting the result needed to qualify for the Gold Cup automatically,” Smith said.

“It wasn’t to be and now we have to make sure we do everything we can to beat the opponents in front of us and get back there again.

“Obviously, the result that night didn’t go our way but there are a lot of things we can take from that game and others in the Nations League and previous Gold Cup. A lot of the squad have now experienced what it is like to play in big games against strong opposition. It is an experience we can all lean on.”

Wells, 31, is one of the senior players in the squad and he welcomes the extra responsibility of the captaincy.

“It is amazing to be back with the national squad,” the Bristol City striker said. “I’ve been away for over a year and so just to be back among the squad is great.

“Obviously, for me it is extra special having the captain’s armband again and that only gives me an added incentive to give it everything I have.

“Having the senior players back in the squad is definitely crucial. We have never been blessed with having the biggest amount of players to call on, so to be able to have that added experience in the squad is important.

“We have struggled at times in the past when not everyone has been available and so hopefully we can be back to our best for the upcoming fixture with pretty much everyone available again.”

Coach Lightbourne made several changes to the squad that was beaten 6-0 by Surinam and drew with Cayman Islands, as he welcomed back some experienced players.

Wells added: “It is also great to have a number of newer talented players also coming into the squad because that is key for any team in football.

“The newer faces within the squad all have really bright futures and they’ve also had a taste of international football already, which is important.

“It is up to the experienced players to help guide those guys because it was something I was fortunate to have as a young player. Irrespective if I’m captain or not, helping the younger players is a key thing for me to do. The senior players are there to lead the way and guide the next generations.”

Wells was the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation when Bermuda played Mexico 20 months ago. Now there are other attacking options, with Smith, Justin Donawa and Reggie Lambe recalled to the squad.

“Being part of the last Gold Cup was a great experience, not only for the squad but the whole country,” Wells said.

“That tournament really put us on the map and propelled us forward. It certainly got more eyes on the Bermuda football team.

“We all share the goal of qualifying and getting back there again, but we have to focus on what is in front of us first of all. People will look at us as favourites against Barbados, but we can’t forget that in football anything can happen.”

Wells added: “In a way, we were where Barbados are now a couple of years ago, so we have to be wary of the motivation of them being desperate to reach a first-ever Gold Cup.

“We have to expect a really tough game and not be complacent in any way by looking too far ahead. We face a big task ahead and I for one will not be underestimating anyone.

“We all know what we want to achieve but we have to be aware of remaining focused and being fully prepared. All we need to do right is focus on this next game completely and make sure we take a step closer to achieving our overall objective.”

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Published July 01, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated June 30, 2021 at 11:02 pm)

Nahki Wells and Jonté Smith make striking statements of intent

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