A 69th minute penalty kick conversion by skipper Kurt Frederick was sufficient to give Saint Lucia a convincing 1-nil victory over San Marino in the second ‘international friendly’ match played at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground [DSCG], on Sunday.
In this unprecedented challenge against European competitors, the home team made good on its performance with a cadre of young debutants on the side, meshing with the more seasoned and some professional players. From a two-match fixture, Saint Lucia won 1 and drew1, last Thursday.
Team Saint Lucia’s head coach Stern John lauded the performance, stating that the squad matured “from boys …to men”.
On Sunday, Team Saint Lucia got the first shot on goal in the fifth minute as they began aggressively with some sharp, penetrative offensive play.
San Marino counter attacked soon after from the corner kick to make their presence felt in a game that would later result in some serious physical tussles among opposing players.
But Team 758 kept an upper hand on the game and within the 15th minute mark upped their offensive play; firstly, a blistering solo effort had to be cut down by the onrushing fully fledged San Marino goal keeper, Elia Benedettini.
Minutes later another shot at goal ricocheted off the crossbar, and then Benedettini was in action again, this time having to save a curling spot kick from Frederick.
Saint Lucia pushed on with their offensive play, and continued to apply the pressure as their European opponents retaliated with some rough tackles.
This overtly physical retaliation from the San Marino side resulted in a Team 758 striker brought down in the box. Frederick steped up and hit a powerful left footer into the far right past the goalkeeper who partially attempted to parry the ball that was struck forcefully into the nets.
As the game progressed the physical aggression persisted and the officiating referee on several occasions was forced to intervene in some unruly behavior, notably from the visitors, resulting in cautionary cards. And when the Europeans attempted to push up they were met with a robust defense, with goalkeeper Vino Barclett safeguarding the posts.
Incidentally, it was Frederick that was forced to exit the game in the latter stages after picking up a second yellow card; he was earlier booked for dissent after celebrating the goal and removing his shirt to cheer on the home fans.
Nevertheless, Team 758 held on firmly to close out the game and savour a hard fought victory.
At the post-match press brief, while San Marino Coach Fabrizio Costantini acknowledged the prowess of Team Saint Lucia, he felt that the physical nature of the game played in the host team’s favour. He also complained of the referee’s decisions not being too satisfactory at times.
Speaking on the European side’s performance in the friendly challenges, Benedettini said, “In the first friendly we created a few opportunities to score and again in tonight’s game. But in this second half of this match …and what normally happens in a balanced game a penalty kick made the difference in the scores and the eventual result.”
While lauding Team 758 performance, John noted that “it is a work in progress” and there are still areas for development in the overall game.
“Today, we came out and dominated the game as well as we did in the first match …and obviously, it was a physical battle with the boys. But, these guys came in as boys and they are leaving as men,” said John.
Commenting on the team’s offensive play. John declared: “Football is about scoring goals and we created a lot of opportunities but we never took our chances …I feel we were able to get the penalty and Kirk put the penalty away. We do not have a natural goal scorer yet, we have a lot of guys that work hard and can score goals. We need a natural goal scorer for the team and so, hopefully we can get that in the future”.
Barclett spoke about the team camaraderie, and gelling together to become a more formidable unit. “It’s something that we’ve been working on in training …we were at one level and then moving into the game we raise the level,” said Barclett. “Coming into the first game we were not yet full ready to play, but now we believe in ourselves and we came out and play. You would have seen the guys (opponents) playing physical and we matched up to them.”
Team Saint Lucia will continue with preparations for the return leg of Nations League matches, next March.
Saint Lucia has also qualified for the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is the football association’s major competition for men’s national football, to determine North America’s continental champion, including Central America and the Caribbean.