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The Caribbean Grand final of the 2014 Guinness Street Football Challenge was a resounding success in more ways than one.  From the well-orchestrated efforts of the organising committee to the dazzling skills, thrills and frills of the eight finalists on the field of play and the pulsating performance by reggae superstar Anthony Moses Davis aka Beenie Man, which brought the curtain down on the two-day showpiece.

Hosted by 2013 champions Trinidad and Tobago (T&;T) at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain, the tournament got off to a bright start on Friday 6 June when Antigua &; Barbuda copped a 1-0 win over Group A rival St. Vincent and the Grenadines courtesy of a Corwin Mathurin fifth minute strike.  St Lucia joined the party with a late 2-1 win over Dominica in their Group B opener. Silverios Vidale’s goal in the fourth minute for St Lucia was cancelled out by Kelshire Charles’ equaliser two minutes later. But Guthyos Vidal would snatch all three points for St Lucia when he provided the winning item a minute from time.

What followed next was a dazzling display of dribbling ability, ball control and flair by what turned out to be the two most outstanding teams of the tournament.   Billed as the clash of ‘Reggae versus Soca’, Jamaica ran into a red-hot T&;T through their dynamic trio of Dwayne Ramasray, Kerry Joseph and Jerwyn Balthazar. Ramasray would score in the first minute of the match when he shot home between two defenders and Joseph would complete a 3-0 rout with two clinical finishes in the fourth and fifth minutes to give the hosts an impressive opening win.

Guyana, who matched T&;T for skill and flair with the deceptively dazzling pair of Stephen Alfred and James Meredith, would also impress the fans with a come from behind 2-1 win over St Kitts &; Nevis. Goals by Alfred in the third minute and Meredith (9th) would eclipse Samuel Phipps’ second minute item for St Kitts &; Nevis.

T&T would go on to give the hometown fans much more to cheer about when they beat Antigua 4-0 in their next Group A assignment.   Not even the rain, which graced the arena during the match, could damper the lively atmosphere that existed as Balthazar (4th &; 11th), Ramasray (5th) and Joseph (6th) helped T&;T register the biggest win of the tournament.  Guyana kept pace in Group B via a 1-0 win over St Lucia with Alfred scoring with a scorching left-footed shot 11th minutes into the match.   In between the two victories apiece by T&;T and Guyana, St Vincent opened its account with a 1-0 triumph over Jamaica and St Kitts &; Nevis booked a 3-1 win on penalties after their fixture with Dominica ended 1-1 during regulation.  Saturday’s Day 2 brought a lot more fans to the Jean Pierre Complex in heightened anticipation of what lay in store for them, and they would not be disappointed.

St Kitts defeated St Lucia 1-0 for its second win, which saw them capture the runner-up berth in Group B, while Guyana topped the table with a 2-0 shutout of Dominica. Alfred (2nd) and Meredith (4th) again highlighting their immense potential in leading their team to victory and maintaining its unbeaten tag.  Jamaica earned its first win of the tournament from the penalty spot by a 2-1 margin after their clash with Antigua and Barbuda failed to throw up any goals during regulation time, while T&;T closed out its round robin fixture with a similar margin of victory over St Vincent, who despite the defeat took the runner-up berth behind the host.  The semi-final matchups paired Guyana with St Vincent and T&;T against St Kitts and the host nation would come roaring out of the gates in the first semis.  Joseph gave T&;T the lead in the fifth minute when he worked a quick one-two with Ramasray before firing home from close range and Balthazar made it 2-0 in the 11th minute with a one-time effort into the back of the net. Errol O’ Laughlin reduced the deficit with a strike in the 14th minute but T&;T’s captain Ramasray restored the two-goal advantage almost immediately by scoring from a distance. Joseph added another before a late item from Kadeem Lewis saw the host book its place in the final via a 4-2 triumph.

Guyana also got off quickly in their semi-final as the strike pair of Alfred (1st) and Meredith (7th) gave them a 2-0 advantage, which they took into the halftime break. Nicoli Williams pulled one back for St Vincent in the 14th minute of the match but Meredith saw off the opposition in the 18th minute when he nonchalantly shot home between two defenders on a counterattack move after Guyana had endured some four minutes of tremendous pressure.

The championship showdown came down to the two best teams on show and after an intense battle over the opening three minutes, it was the host who took the lead.  Balthazar would breach Guyana’s defence with a pass in the 4th minute to Joseph with the task of tapping home the first goal. It was 2-0 in the 11th minute when Balthazar scored on the second attempt after his initial shot was blocked by Jeffery Newton.  T&;T tried to close up shop after scoring their second item but relentless pressure by Guyana bounced back when captain Alpha Fletchman scored in the 18th minute. The match got very competitive thereafter but the T&;T was able to hold off the resilience of the Guyana Team to see out the final two minutes without conceding further to clinch an unprecedented second successive regional title.  St Vincent prevailed in the battle for third place as Paul Farrell scored a second half double to cancel out Anoy Liburd’s fourth minute goal for St Kitts.

Kyle Davis from Dominica put up a great challenge to Kerron Ford form T&;T in the finals of the ‘Regional Skills Challenge’. However, Kerron was able to withstand the challenge to capture T&;T’s second successive hold on the title by impressing the judges and the fans with his exceptional skills. Among the judges was none other than Jamaica’s 1998 “Reggae Boyz” World Cup goal scorer Robbie Earle.   Also featuring in the star-studded cast was the world renowned football skills specialist Collin Nell. Nell gave several displays of his breath-taking skills over the two-day period with not only a football but with balls the size of a golf ball and ping pong ball.  T&;T pocketed US$4,000 for their title win with Guyana and St Vincent taking home US$2,000 and US$1,500, respectively, while Ford collected US$1,000 for his triumph in the Skills competition.   The tournament was broadcast across the Caribbean live by Sportsmax through its partners in St. Vincent on the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Broadcasting Corporation; Antigua and Barbuda on ABS TV; St. Lucia on Helen Television System Channel 4 &; 5; Dominica on MARPIN; St. Kitts on IZ TV; Guyana on NCN; Grenada on the Grenada Broadcast Network” and in Trinidad on CNMG and Wi Sports.

Semi-final 1: T&;T 4 (K. Joseph 5th &; 16th, D. Ramasray 14th, J. Baltahzar 11th) vs St. Kitts 2 (E. O’Laughlin 14th, K. Lewis 19th). Semi-final 2: Guyana 3 (S. Alfred 1st, J. Meredith 7th &; 18th) vs St Vincent 1 (N. Williams 14th) Third-place playoff: St Vincent 2 (P. Farrell 12th &; 15th) vs St Kitts 1 (A. Liburd 4th) Final: T&;T 2 (K. Joseph 4th, J. Balthazar 11th) vs Guyana 1 (A. Fletchman 18th) Skills winner: Kerron Ford (T&;T) 
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