Small Fish Big Pond 2 – Steady, as She Goes

We last left off in the late 70s/early 80s with Antigua bowing out of CFU Championship qualification after two 1-0 defeats at Haitian hands.

Not much is known to have happened in Antiguan soccer between then and 1983, and for the games before then, not much statistic wise is known. In fact, simply figuring out who scored would likely require a trip to Antigua and an extended rifling through their archives, something I’m considering doing with increasing seriousness.

Anyway, as stated previously, our saga continues in 1983. The Benna Boys returned from their hiatus by entering the 1983 CFU Championship once again. First round qualification consisted of a home-and-away series against neighboring Guadeloupe, the first victim of Antigua in international play. Antigua traveled to the French island on April 2nd, for the first time since their prior victory on penalties. This time, the visitors didn’t need spot kicks to stun the home crowd with a 3-2 victory, only their second.

Antigua hosted Guadeloupe for the second leg a month later. Mervyn Richard opened the scoring for the Benna Boys in the 15th minute, before Guadeloupe answered with first half goals from Philipe Galoux in the 29th and Jean Silvedire in the 41st. Cedric Joseph brought Antigua back level only three minutes later to close out the first half tied two-two.

The second half began with a second goal from Guadeloupe’s Galoux, not even a full minute in. The next twenty minutes, the visiting side led, before Antiguan Alfred Lewis scored in the 55th. That put the match back level at 3-3, with Antigua leading 6 to 5 on aggregate. The Benna Boys kept the game level for the remainder of the match, pushing them through to the qualification playoffs, consisting of a two game series against Guyana.

Antigua was now only two games away from their second CFU Finals appearance, potentially their first in five years.

The first match was once again to be played on the road. Antigua held the local Guyanese to a scoreless draw.

Then, in the home leg, something unfounded happened. Back home, the fired up Antigua side needed only one goal to advance. Instead, Everton Gonsalves netted four. The Benna Boys’ back line maintained a clean sheet, giving the local boys a four-nothing victory. Antigua had never scored that many goals, nor won by such a margin before, and it would remain their biggest win for nearly a decade.

Antigua and Barbuda, for only the second time in their history, had made it to the CFU Championship Finals.

The Benna Boys had a daunting task ahead of them, aiming to improve upon their previous performance. They had made it to the final competition in the inaugural tournament five years before, but scored only a single goal in three games, finishing without a point and a -7 goal differential.

This time, Antigua would face Martinique, French Guiana, and Caribbean powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago. Their first game, against Martinique, ended badly. Antigua lost 2-0. The second, held against the hosting French Guiana, didn’t go much better. Another loss, this time 1-0.

Antigua traveled to Trinidad for the last of 3 games, without a hope of winning, but with the potential to play spoiler to Trinidad and Tobago. If Martinique won or drew their final match, they would win, but if Martinique lost, and Trinidad beat Antigua, Trinidad would win.

Martinique held French Guyana to a scoreless draw, guaranteeing themselves the 1983 CFU title.

Antigua, however, did manage to score on Trinidad, as they had five years ago, but allowed two goals in the process. Despite losing all three games, they managed a respectable -4 goal differential. While far from ideal, it was an improvement on their previous showing, and the plucky underdogs still had reason to celebrate. Two wins, including their 4-0 slaughter, and improved defending, were sure signs of progress to the twin islands.

Antigua’s participation in the CFU finals meant they were eligible for 1985 CONCACAF Championship qualification, consisting of a two game series against Haiti. In preparation, the Benna Boys took on Guyana in friendly competition. Everton Gonsalves maintained his prolific form, netting all 3 en route to a clean sheet victory.

August 1984 brought Antigua’s second CONCACAF Championship qualification, and with it, a potential berth in the World Cup, meaning that for only the second time, Antigua and Barbuda had entered FIFA’s most famous contest. Both games were due to be played away in Haiti, robbing the Benna Boys of their now-growing home field advantage. The first match went undeniably poorly. Haiti took down the visitors 4-nothing. During the second game, only three days later, Antigua managed to net 2 goals en route to their first continental level victor, but with Haiti adding another, Antigua lost 5-2 on aggregate. Once again, Antigua and Barbuda’s qualification hopes ended early, along with the year 1984.

1985 brought with it another CFU Championship, and with a handful of wins to their name, Antigua and Barbuda had a lot to prove. Qualification consisted of two matches, against Dominica and Guadeloupe.

Not much is known about the qualification round, but we do know that despite going up 2-1 on Dominica, the 1-0 loss at the hands of Guadeloupe meant the Benna Boys lost out on their chance of a finals repeat.

Antigua’s only known matches in 1986 were two Central American and Caribbean Games qualifiers, held in the Dominican Republic. Antigua drew the hosts 1-1 and lost 1-0 to Honduras, and failed to qualify.

It would be two years before Antigua and Barbuda had another appearance in international soccer.

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