Strong words were spoken among Bermuda’s players after their 4-1 home defeat by Panama last week, before they showed plenty of character to pull off a superb 2-0 win in the reverse fixture in their second Concacaf Nations League match last weekend.
Bermuda returned home on Monday to a warm reception as they were greeted by Bermuda Football Association officials, sports minister Lovitta Foggo, and friends and family.
Coach Kyle Lightbourne said the win was still sinking in after Nahki Wells’s two goals shocked the home crowd.
“It feels real now, that we were able to perform the way we did,” Lightbourne said. “We had to change our game plan because they scouted us. We rode our luck a little bit, but we kept them at arm’s length. They had a lot of opportunities, a lot of the ball, but they weren’t able to penetrate us. That’s the way we played a year or two ago and sometimes you have to switch it up and change the personnel.”
Lightbourne made four changes to the team, bringing in Jalen Harvey at full back and Roger Lee, Tre Ming and Justin Donawa in midfield.
“Roger and Tre came in and did an excellent job in the centre of midfield and were able to work without the ball,” Lightbourne added. “Obviously, we didn’t intend on defending that much, but once you get a lead, it becomes like that.
“The first goal, a goal that we worked on, came from an outstanding ball from Reggie to Zeiko [Lewis]. When you see it over and over, it was one of the balls of the tournament so far. Zeiko nipped it back to Nahki and he finished it off.
“Everyone put in a shift and we’re happy with that. It gives us a chance to get back into the tournament; it’s definitely game on.
“The honeymoon period from the Gold Cup is over; we had some harsh words to say to one another once we got to Panama. We cleared the air and made sure we stayed focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Bermuda now face two matches against heavyweights Mexico in their final group matches in League A. The bottom team in each three-team group will be relegated.
“We have to look at our game management; we’re going to be playing against the No 1 team in this region, so we have to be good from the beginning,” Lightbourne said.
Asked where the victory ranked on his list of football achievements, Lightbourne replied: “It’s definitely up there, especially as a coach.”
Defender Jaylon Bather said he was happy to keep a clean sheet in front of the home crowd.
“It was a hard-fought victory; we were defending for the whole 90 minutes, pretty much, and then breaking when we had the chances,” he said. “In the second game, we had it in our heads to come with everything we had and put everything on the line.
“It gives us a lot of confidence; for a little country like Bermuda to beat a big country like Panama gives a bigger name on the world stage.”
Dale Eve, the Bermuda goalkeeper, pulled off several key saves.
“That was probably the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Eve said. “The fact that they kept trying and not succeeding to score gave us even more strength to keep it up.
“You can’t lose 4-1 and then sulk; you have to get over it and do what you have to do to get the whole team back ramped up.”
Mark Wade, the president of the Bermuda Football Association, believes the performance showed how far the team have come since the start of the Concacaf Nations League qualifiers more than a year ago.
“It’s not going to sink in for another few days, I’m sure,” he said. “It was an exciting night; I went and watched it with friends. I didn’t think we could have a better experience than we did in Dominican Republic and then against Nicaragua. We’ll see what happens next against next Mexico.”
Asked how far he thinks the team can go, Wade responded: “I’m not going to put any pressure on them, but I’d like to use the word maturing. We’re certainly maturing as an association and certainly as a team and, if we continue that, maybe the sky is the limit.
“For me, it was the discipline. They were able to keep their shape, be disciplined in their approach and believed in the game plan. At about 75 minutes, I could see the game was over. It appeared Panama started to abandon their own game plan and started to do things in desperation.”