By Paul Nicholson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
June 21 – St Kitts and Nevis caused the upset of the Gold Cup preliminary round to qualify for the group stages and place on the big stage with matches against USA Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago in Group A of Concacaf’s.
St Kitts (population 47,606) were looking to do more giant killing as they lined up against French Guiana in at the DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For the second time in four days they went through following a penalty shoot out and the heroics of their goalkeeper captain Julani Archibald.
They are the first team to make it to the Gold Cup finals from Group C of Concacaf’s Nations League. A tribute to the competitive balance and importance of the three tiered national team competition.
St Kitts dominated the early exchanges against French Guiana, but like in the first two matches of the evening of three knock-out games, rhythm was again interrupted by lightning storms in the area that forced the teams off and into cover in the 26th minute.
Saint Kitts have never made it to the Gold Cup group stages and had only reached the final of the preliminary knock-out phase via a dramatic late equaliser by Tyquan Terrell that forced a penalty shootout. Archibald was the shoot-out hero making some big saves and dumping one the preliminary round favourites Curacao out of the competition.
French Guiana had found progression to this stage easier, beating Sint Maarten 4-1. They have appeared just once at the Gold Cup finals, in 2017.
On their return from the weather break, the teams traded blows before a period of St Kitts pressure saw French Guiana fail to clear a ball across the box. Tiquanny Williams took a touch and pushed the ball home for the lead.
At half time it was 1-0 but French Guiana came out from the break a different team, immediately putting St Kitts under pressure.
It paid off and on 53 minutes Gerard Williams handled the ball in the box. Arnold Abeliniti hammered home to level the scores from the penalty spot.
St Kitts started to find their rhythm again and had a call for penalty turned down on 60 minutes. Two minutes later Tiquany Williams almost had a second goal, but blasted over the bar from 10 metres.
With the match running down in added time both sides had corners and counter attacks. The clock ticked close to an hour past midnight due to the weather interruptions in all three matches before the referee blew for penalties.
French Guinana scored first before Archibald save Loic Baal’s shot to his right. When Yohan Marmot fired French Guiana’s fourth penalty over the bar, Mervin Lewis stepped up to seal the win for St Kitts 4-2. Keithroy Freeman, Romaine Sawyers and Carlos Bertie all scored for St Kitts.
St Kitts’ signature win in their surge up the Concacaf totem pole was their World Cup 2022 qualifying competition win over Trinidad and Tobago. They face the same opponents again in the first match in the group stage on June 25.
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