A THORNY ISSUE – LIME Challenge heating up
I?WANT?TO?SAY?that the LIME Pelican Football Challenge really got started on Sunday.
Everything before then seemed like a mere rehearsal in comparison.
Everything that was glaringly missing in the preliminary rounds came to the fore in bundles.
There was tempo, flair, outstanding possession and positional play, intrigue and some mouth-watering goals.
The increased entry fee was worth every red cent.
At the knockout phase we should have expected the bar to be raised appreciably but the performance of the players exceeded all expectations. Take Red Snappers as an example. They hadn’t exactly set the stadium on fire in any of their previous games, only winning a single game in the group stages but suddenly in the quarter-finals they are comfortably in the lead by a 2-0 margin against one of the favourites Bajan Pride.
Spectators were dumbfounded and Bajan Pride were shell-shocked.
What would have caused such a remarkable turnaround in fortunes?
The likely answer would be that they went back to the drawing board, trained harder and studied their opponents. Whatever it was they looked a very different team and except for the unfortunate sending off of their goalkeeper Richard Corbin may have been able to create one of the biggest upsets of the season.
However, to their credit, Bajan Pride fought back gamely and took full control and not only because of their numerical advantage.
It seemed to be a case of what to expect when you pull a lion’s tail. Instead of dropping their shoulders, two goals down in the second half, they found a new gear that must have been invisible to us.
They went into overdrive and started to play the fluent and cohesive ball we had been accustomed to from the very first game.
In fact, they were the only side that seemed to gel from game one. All of the others found the missing links as the tournament developed.
They were so inspired in the second half on Sunday that they forced extra-time and went on to win 4-2 as the demoralized Snappers became easy bait in deep waters.
The Bajan Pride’s predatory instincts had never been showcased like that before.
Yet the best was yet to come in the second quarter-final between 360 Connection and Top Bay Settlers.
This turned out to be arguably the most scholarly, most intense and by far the most exciting game of the tournament.
Neither took any prisoners, neither asked a quarter nor gave any. The pulse of the excited spectators raced in tandem with the frenetic pace of the nail-biting encounter.
It was like punch for punch in that middleweight slugfest of the 1980s when Marvin Hagler stopped Tommy Hearns for the world title.
Neither team came close to playing to such a high standard before so much of it had to do with the fact that they were in a do or die situation.
The 360 Connection prevailed 4-3 on penalty kicks but Top Bay earned loads of respect in a spectacle that has provided the best advertisement for the competition to date.
When word gets around about what transpired on Sunday there is likely to be standing room only at the Stadium for the second set of quarter-finals.
It is hoped, though, that an attempt will be made to raise the standard of the officiating to the level of the performance of the players.
From now on only the best will do.
Andi Thornhill is an award-winning freelance sports journalist.