National Under 20 Defies the Odds; Champions of the 2018 Blackheart Champs of Champs!

After an abysmal showing at the national U23 competition, the  Under 20 national team, now under the tutelage of head coach Francis Lastic were in desperate need of an absolution;

a resurgence of belief in their own ability, a morale booster and a reason to regain the confidence of the nation. On the periphery, of the FIFA Under 20 World Cup Qualifiers, national football association president Mr Lyndon Cooper made a bold decision to defy the detractors and register the Under 20 team in the 2018 SLFA/ Blackheart tournament. The tournament is rapidly gathering momentum and as a usual precursor to the official games of the competition, the organizers have hosted the Champs of Champs tournament. The competition features 8 of the elite districts on island as they earn valuable game time and a chance to win $5000 ahead of the actual tournament. In the past, the participating teams would be selected based on their power rankings predetermined by their performance in the previous year’s competition. However this year, there was a shuffle in the tournament configuration as teams had to earn their spot in this year’s Champs of Champs via a zonal qualification route. This opened the door for the U20 national team as they finished top of their group in the prequalifying phase and earned themselves a spot amongst the premiere 8 districts on the island.

Mabouya Valley, a stronghold football district but a relatively new hosts to competitions of this magnitude set the stage for the 2018 Blackheart Champs of Champs tournament. Scores of supporters flooded the stands of the Mabouya Valley playing field to make their pretournament assessments of the Blackheart Championship contenders. The National Under 20 was firstly tested by the home team, Mabouya Valley. It was a game gridlocked in an everlasting midfield duel; with neither team capable of liberating their front men behind the opposition’s defences to decent scoring chances. The lack of creativity resulted in the game being decided through a penalty shootout in which the under 20 team squandered their first 3 penalties. However, they managed to emerge victorious 3-2 on the night courtesy of the colossus heroics of goal keeper Vino Barcelette. Mr Barcelette, has truly evolved as a goal keeper and is now being lauded as the best in the business on the island. Managing 3 saves in the penalty shootout, Vino sent the under 20 into the finals of the Champs of Champs competition.

However, this wasn’t to be the last of the high flying Barcelette. After a stalemated contest between the national Under 20 and fellow finalist Vieux Fort South (Arguably the strongest senior district team on island), Vino was again to be the saviour in another dramatic penalty shootout. Juggernauts Vieux Fort South conceded the championship to the national under 20 via a 3-1 scoreline following the penalty shootout. Again Vino’s minute structure was ironically too large of an obstacle in front of the goal mouth for Vieux-Fort South. The goal keeper, who, through another ironical tale is from Vieux Fort South, made a further impressive three penalty stops, securing the national Under 20 team their first ever title win as a unit.

Jubilation surrounded the national Under 20 camp as coach Baba Lastic expressed his deep contentment with his team’s performance and the result of the competition. This much needed victory will serve well in rebuilding the confidence of this unit ahead of the Blackheart Championship and even more importantly ahead of the CONCACAF leg of the FIFA Under 20 World Cup Qualifiers.