England-born Antiguans eye Gold Cup qualification
(From left to right) Players Daniel Bowry, Joshua Parker and Mahlon Romeo

KINGSTON - The new Concacaf Nations League is already giving hope and fueling dreams even before the first ball is kicked.

With the qualification phase set to kick off in the FIFA window of September, players of Concacaf’s 41-member grouping can now think big because there is much to aspire to.

England-born professional footballers of Antigua and Barbuda, a small territory in the Eastern Caribbean, have joined their ancestral home in a renewed quest to conquer new frontiers.

By their rhetoric, it’s clear they intend to be counted among those who dared to change the football landscape of a country with just over 100,000 inhabitants.

With the Concacaf Nations League a route to greater things, Antigua and Barbuda have taken aim at a higher goal - which before now seemed out of reach - to qualify for the confederation’s marquee tournament, the Gold Cup.

Concacaf has expanded its flagship tournament from 12 teams to 16 starting with 2019 edition. With that increase, the sky is now the limit for those who before had little or no chance of parading on the big stage, Antigua among them.

Antigua captain Joshua Parker is his team’s chief agitator in the pursuit of the once elusive dream, and he wants his piece of the pie.

“The format of this competition is much better than what we had before… for us we will want to win games and qualify for the Gold Cup,” said the Gillingham midfielder, who is capped 25 times for Antigua.

“I think that if everything off the field is handled in the right manner, this is the best opportunity we have to qualify, and for me personally, I believe it’s our time to qualify,” said the 27-year-old, a seasoned campaigner of the British leagues.

Being a small country and ranked a low 139 by FIFA (20 by Concacaf), Parker no longer sees this as a disadvantage in the context of the wider Concacaf as the new possibilities swell hearts.

“Although we are a small country compared to other teams in the competition, when it comes down to it, size doesn’t matter.

“For me personally I have come to Antigua to achieve something and make history for such a small country,” ended Parker, who has had stints at Britain’s Queens Park Rangers, Oldham Athletic and Red Star Belgrade of Serbia.

Millwall FC defender, the 22-year-old Mahlon Romeo, joins his captain in sounding the trumpet.

“It’s massive (Concacaf Nations League) and I believe it is about time they made a competition that evens the playing field and give smaller nations a chance to develop themselves.

“I think it’s good and exciting and I know we will be creating some upsets. I also believe our chances are very good to qualify. In fact I would be very disappointed if we didn’t qualify because we have got a really good squad,” expressed Romeo, who is capped 22 times for the ‘Benna Boys’.

Daniel Bowry, the Charlton Athletic defender, also gave his blessings.

“I think it’s good we can be included in such tournament, which will give players opportunities they didn’t have before.

“We have been in training and what we want to do now is just qualify for the Gold Cup,” noted Bowry, who debuted for Antigua in a friendly against Bermuda last week. Antigua won that game 3-2.

Antigua and Barbuda - drawn to play St Lucia, Bahamas, Martinique and Curacao in the Nations League qualifying round - has kick-started its preparation with a series of matches against Caribbean opponents.

Following the game against Bermuda, Antigua take on regional powerhouse Jamaica in Kingston on Sunday, before taking on Dominica on April 1.