Amongst the big ties at this elementary stage is Aruba v St Lucia with the first leg resulting in a slightly surprising 4-2 victory for Arubans last night.
The match was played at the grandly named Complejo Deportivo Guillermo Prospero Trinidad which is situated on the outskirts of the island’s main town Oranjestad.
I was fortunate enough to visit the Caribbean island of Aruba on honeymoon last month and thanks to a very understanding new wife managed to squeeze in a game at the Trinidad Stadium while I was there.
Very much geared up for tourists, particularly American ones, Aruba isn’t known for its football, although the official stats suggest that as much as one-tenth of the population plays the game.
If the official FIFA rankings are to be believed, the Aruban national team is pretty dire, currently ranked 200th in the world. As it stands there are only seven sides ranked below it, so the St Lucia result looks like lifting them above the likes of the Bahamas, Guam and the Cook Islands, who occupy some of the places above.
All of the Aruba national team is drawn from their local league, the Division di Honor, which is run under the auspices of the local FA, or Arubaanse Voetbal Bond.
The match I saw in Oranjestad was one of the post-season play-off games from this league, which are played in a round-robin format by the four teams which finish highest in the ten-team league.
Deportivo Nacional, hailing from the tourist town of Palm Beach were pitted against La Fama, from the industrial south of the island.
After checking out the stadium in daylight, Mrs Dave and I decided to taxi it to the stadium at night, paying 36 US dollars for the return trip from our hotel.
(In Aruba the dollar is widely used, although everything is also priced in the local currency, the Aruban florin.)
Given that the local football isn’t on the radar for 99.9% of tourists, it wasn’t surprising that the stadium was geared up for dealing primarily in florins, although I was able to pay in (7 dollars for two) and purchase Balashi beers using American cash.
Boasting a reputed capacity of 5,000, Trinidad Stadium has seating on two sides of the artificial 3G pitch, which is circled by a six-lane running track.
Only one side was open, which was plenty for the crowd of a few hundred that turned up to watch.
Partially covered and with the tunnel segregating two banks of bench seats, it offered a decent view of the action, although towards the bottom the view was obsured slightly by a mesh fence.
Kick off was at 7.30pm local time, which was around the time it got dark, so the relentless sun which beats down on Aruba wasn’t a factor. It was still very warm and humid though, and this effected the pace of the game, particularly in the second half.
Before the game got underway, the assembled crowd were treated to a rendition of the (lengthy) Aruban national anthem, the players and match officals facing the national flag at the far end of the ground throughout.
‘Flower of Scotland’ it wasn’t, and it was relief when the formalities were dispensed with.
The game itself got off to a lightning fast start with La Fama silencing the bigger Nacional support by scoring the opener within a couple of minutes.
Nacional quickly hit back with an equaliser and with two goals in the opening five minutes, I sat back expecting a goal fest.
Alas, it never materialised, although that was only due to the poor finishing of both sets of strikers, who were presented with numerous chances by some kamikaze defending, a symptom of what seemed to be a complete lack of positional awareness.
Tactically both sets of players were clueless, although there was no shortage of technical ability with the ball. If this represented the cream of local footballing talent, it’s little wonder that Aruba struggle at international level.
La Fama should probably have won the game by virtue of the fact that they missed the best chance of all, a first half penalty, but their penalty taker screwed the ball wide.
The draw subsequently helped Nacional into the championship final where it appears that they lost out to Racing Club Aruba.