Digicel Cup a good experience for Shabazz
By Franklin Wilson
Kaieteur News
January 21, 2007

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The experience garnered in the Digicel Caribbean Cup competition, which will conclude on Tuesday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago, was an excellent one for Technical Director (TD) of the Guyana Football Federation (GFF), Jamal Shabazz.

Unfortunately, the Golden Jaguars came up short of advancing to the semi-final stage which would have also secured a place at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup scheduled for Los Angeles. “It was an eye opener working in a country that does not have the resources as Trinidad and Tobago and seeing how they got by, it made me appreciate more the type of resources that we have here (T&T) but while saying so, I am very impressed with the talent of the Guyanese.”

The unfortunate loss to St. Vincent & the Grenadines 2-0 meant the end of an era and the dream of qualifying, despite the comeback 4-3 win over Guadeloupe and a hard fought nil all draw against the highly fancied Cubans.

In the entire competition, Guyana only lost once and was eliminated which shows that there is no room for mistakes at this level. The finishing of the forwards apart from ace striker Nigel Codrington who ended with a tally of 11 goals, was a major set back for the side.

The entire experience nonetheless was worth the while for the TD. “This is a step up from where I sat……”It is a bunch of players hungry for success who gave their all, making a lot of sacrifices for their country.”

Guyana was the only country to have won all their matches leading up to the finals, recording wins over old rivals Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles by respective 5-0 margins, needling Grenada 1-0 in opening group ‘A' rivalry in Curacao.

Second round play hosted here, at the GCC ground, Bourda saw the ‘Jaguars' in dominant style yet again, hammering Antigua and Barbuda 6-0, Guadeloupe 3-2 and the Dominican Republic 4-0.

Up to this point, their performance was the best in the history of the game locally. No other team had ever won an entire group at the senior regional level and for that matter, two. Expectations were high for them to reach the final and rightly so. The make up of the team was primarily, players plying their trade at the Pro League level in Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname.

These were supplemented with the inclusion Miami based defender John Rodrigues and England based midfielder Shawn Beveney and goal keeper Jason Lloyd. There was also the recall of veteran striker Collie Hercules, who was one of the first players to play at the Pro League level in T&T. The youngest player to have been included was striker Andrew Murray Jr.

Shabazz commended the efforts of his technical staff. Head Coach Wayne Dover and assistant Kavin Pearce, who worked with the local based players, while Shabazz did the same with the T&T unit using the synchronized training programme that they had developed so that time would not have been lost in preparing the squad.

“We worked as a team and we really, really put our heads together and tried to achieve our objective in this tournament.”

Shabazz also commended the efforts of the GFF for the vision shown in supporting this team. “I think I met a federation who was prepared to listen and to trust in my judgment, in the things that I thought was necessary for the national team and for the game and they gave the respect that was necessary……”I did not need to come from Europe or South America to get that kind of respect that they gave to me and I really appreciated it.”

Shabazz posited that it was based on the collective effort of the federation, the players and the technical staff that they were able to achieve what they did.

“It is not my effort alone and it is not right for me alone to get the credit for this, because it is the collective effort of all of us.”

Captain Charles ‘Lily' Pollard, who is also captain for Pro League side North East Stars, has continued to be a tower of strength and positive role model for his charges, was evidently disappointed in not moving on in the tournament especially from the stand point that Guyana was playing the best football of the tournament. “It was very disappointing end, I think we created a lot of chances but did not score them….”I would tell the young players to keep their heads up.”

The 32 year-old Pollard, who has been captain of the national team for the past eight years, donning 68 caps in a career which started in 1995, was so emotional at the post match press conference after the draw against Cuba, announced that he was calling it a day on his international career.

“I think that I had enough, I enjoy it a lot but I think there is a time I need to draw the string to concentrate on my club career, I am getting older.”

Pollard's statement prompted Shabazz to say people say things sometimes they really do not mean and shortly after Pollard reminded the media present “Remember I said I think that that was my last national game.” Pollard still has a lot to offer to his country and the younger players and with the continuity of the momentum, the future of the game here looks sound.

The majority of the players, coach and assistant along with the manager and a number of media personnel arrived home on Friday evening. The team was welcomed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, by Public Relations Officer of the GFF, Frederick Granger.