Region Four crowned One Guyana President’s Cup football champs
By Avenash Ramzan
Second-half goals, scored two minutes apart, first drew Region Four level with Region Three and then secured them the lead, one that confirmed the star-studded unit as inaugural champions of the One Guyana President’s Cup football tournament on Sunday evening.
Buoyed by vociferous supporters at the National Track and Field Centre, home side Region Three scored early against the run of play, but Region Four averted a major upset by tucking in two goals in an intense passage of play to end the competition with a clean slate.
It seemed fitting that the tournament’s joint-leading goalscorer Kelsey Benjamin would net the winner for Region Four in the 75th minute, after Daniel Wilson had levelled the scores with a powerful free-kick two minutes earlier.
The championship-winning goal by Benjamin was his 10th of the competition, drawing him level with his namesake Abumchi Benjamin of Region Five.
To whom the Highest Goalscorer prize of a motorcycle will be presented is yet to be determined.
The supremely talented Leo-Orion Lovell earlier sparked wild celebrations in the stands 13 minutes into the contest, sending Region Three into the ascendancy, a lead they would hold by the half-way mark, and significantly deep into the second half.
The outcome of the game was a major disappointment for Lovell, however, on a personal level it was tears of joy after it was announced he secured a house lot, compliments of the Government of Guyana, for being the Most Valuable Player of the competition.
Lovell scored six goals and was a central figure in Region Three making it to the championship game.
Region Four secured the $2 million top prize and the locally-made President’s Cup trophy, while Region Three took home the $1 million runner-up prize.
In the third place playoff, Region Five defeated Region Seven 6-3 after the teams were locked 2-2 at half-time.
Abumchi Benjamin continued his goal-scoring form, netting a hat-trick in the seventh, 30th and 66th minutes, with a solitary strike each from Delroy Fraser (53rd), Marc Galloway (58th) and Olvis Mitchell (88th).
For Region Seven, Andrew Simmons scored a double (11th and 36th) and Whitney Welcome netted in the 90+2.
The nationwide competition, the brainchild of President Irfaan Ali, was a partnership effort of the Guyana Football Federation, the Kashif and Shanghai Organisation, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport and corporate Guyana.
It started with an inter-ward format after which each Region assembled a squad of 25 players to compete in the two group of five, with the top two advancing to the semi-finals.
Now that the tournament is over, 75 players will be selected and entered into an academy.
These players will be subjected to constant training and fine-tuning of their skills, while also being able to earn through part-time jobs.
The national pool of players will also be involved in community related projects.
President Ali, speaking at the official launch of the Regional competition in December, related: “As I said to the Guyana Football Federation, this is about a mission and an aspiration of us getting into the next World Cup. The government is committed to removing all barriers that will prevent you from giving your best shot in getting into the next World Cup.”
The President added that his government will work along with all stakeholders to ensure the World Cup dream is a reality.
Importantly, Guyana has never qualified for the global showpiece.
The academy, Dr. Ali outlined, is “aimed at making football your food and fuel for the next couple of years in preparation for us going to the World Cup.”
The next World Cup will be hosted by the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region and will be the largest-ever, featuring 48 nations and 80 matches over a 34-day period.
By virtue of being the host countries, USA, Canada and Mexico will gain automatic qualification, leaving the door ajar for three other nations from the Confederation.
This is the largest number of qualifying spots ever available to the Confederation.
Previously, CONCACAF had three and a half qualifying spots- the half being for a continental play-off.