Sunday evening was beset by an electrifying atmosphere and pervasive nervousness as two promising under-20 teams took to the Ministry of Education ground on Georgetown’s Carifesta Avenue to contest one of the most anticipated football encounters of the year.
After more than 2 hours of play, the Fruta Conquerors’ Under-20 squad served their Santos FC counterparts a dish reputed to be best served when cold: revenge.
While to some it was just another game, that victory bought that under-20 outfit their first senior title, undisputed bragging rights, and enough recognition to cement their spot as the best under-20 team around town; at least until the two teams meet again.
The fairytale rivalry between these two star-crossed teams began earlier this year in the inaugural KFC Under-20 Independence Cup, when Fruta Conquerors brushed aside Santos in the Georgetown final 3-1 to draw first blood. Santos, however, got even in the semifinal of the National Competition by needling Fruta Conquerors with two late goals. Sunday’s Limacol final was therefore a tie-breaker of sorts, with the team winning the best-of-three being considered superior.
As if that rivalry did not exert enough pressure on the teenagers, both teams had set out to make history as the first under-20 team to win a senior team competition.
Ready for battle
Clad respectively in brilliant orange and blinding white, the star-studded teams brought in their strongest contenders; and Santos even opted for a fresh face in the dangerous Jobe Caesar — brought into their line-up although he had been quiet on the football scene all year.
Fruta Conquerors, for their part, welcomed their captain Nicholas Mc Arthur back among the hunters, his having been missing in action in the semis because of injury.
Eager to determine the outcome of this encounter, the youngsters began the game at a hectic pace, immediately looking for that first goal to frustrate their opponents. This, however, was not to be, as both sides exhibited skill and awareness in their approach to the crucial game.
With either side having numerous opportunities to score but neither being able to find the back of the net,
frustrated spectators direly needed “the freshness of a breeze in a bottle” to assuage emotions that were being toyed with.
Although having an excellent outing, the 19-year-old Jobe Caesar seemingly could not deposit the ball within the net, or get anywhere close to the gaol. At one time when in the box, he spilled two great opportunities to put Santos in the driver’s seat. The situation was almost the same on the Fruta side, as Jermain Garrett struggled on the wing in the first half. However, in the second, the youth cleaned it up to send in some impressive shots at the goal.
Ryan Hackett was consistent as always, but even with a handful of free kicks, he could not get past the goal’s custodian.
Although action in the middle was hectic, goal-keepers Joel Yhap of Fruta Conquerors and Rashad Roberts of Santos were the real heroes on Sunday night, as they both worked overtime to keep the ball out of goal.
When regulation time ended with the scores still at a deadlock, a half-hour of extra time was granted. And although each side pressured the other with dribbles and skills, the goal-keeping held up until minutes before extra time ended.
If the goalkeepers were auditioning for the role of Superman, Santos’s Rashad Roberts would have fallen short at the very last moment; because Fruta Conquerors’ Nicholas Mc Arthur caught him lapsing for the first time in over two hours, and headed the ball into the goal to break the deadlock.
And Mc Arthur was not yet done. He collected a brilliant pass from Ryan Hackett and tucked the ball into the goal to put an equalizer far out of Santos’s reach.
Yhap, on the other hand, was tested a handful more times by the Santos strikers as the minutes ticked away to game’s end; but this goalie, who joined the Fruta Conquerors’ line-up only some months ago, held firm to demonstrate that he truly deserved the accolade he collected later that evening.
Speaking with Guyana Times Sport after the victory, Mc Arthur said the entire team had put in the necessary work for the win.
“This game was a great game. It wasn’t an easy one; the opponents were not easy, and getting the two goals was not easy. But the team just came out and put in the work, and I put in the work individually,” the forward stated.
Reflecting on their semifinal loss to Santos by the same 2-0 margin in the KFC National Independence Cup back in June, Mc Arthur revealed that the team was not at full strength in that encounter, and that was a factor that needed to be corrected.
He explained why this win was special for the team. “It was sweet! We didn’t have the strength in the KFC; three of our best players were out of the team. Tonight we had the full squad, so we did it. It is special to me for an under-20 team to win a senior team tournament,” Mc Arthur said with a smile.
When probed about the game plan, the forward revealed that it was only until the extra-time segment that the team was given a different strategy, which proved to be the right formula.
“We picked up a late strategy that the coach told us to do. He told us that we’ll come out successful with it, and we did,” he explained.
In the third-place playoff, Riddim Squad edged out Pele with a lone goal scored in the closing minutes of their game, thereby copping the $100,000 prize. Pele received $$50,000.
Bringing remarks for the primary sponsor New GPC, Company Secretary Zulfikar Ali had many positive aspirations for the young players, while disclosing that the company would continue to partner with the Petra Organization.
“We would like to congratulate Fruta Conquerors for their victory tonight. You’ve certainly lived up to your name; and also to Santos, for a wonderful final. You can tell from the game tonight that we have a lot of talent, and that’s what this tournament is supposed to bring out. We wish all of the guys well. We do hope that you make it to the national team and further. We look forward to being part of Petra and the tournament in years to come,” Ali stated.
It was no secret that Nicholas Mc Arthur would bag the most goals award for his twelve goals, inclusive of two hat-tricks. The youngster also walked away with the ‘most valuable player’ accolade, whilst the best goalkeeper award was copped by his teammate Joel Yhap, who conceded the least amount of goals.
Fruta Conquerors took home the $400,000 grand prize, while Santos had to settle for $200,000.