It was overcast skies and a drizzly morning, but the crowds still came out in the hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, yesterday afternoon at Norman Broaster Stadium in San Ignacio, to witness an exciting ninety minutes of highly competitive and skillful football combat, as defending champions Belize Defence Force (BDF) eventually prevailed 2-0 against the relentless southern invaders, Toledo Ambassadors, to claim their third straight BPFL Caribbean Motors Cup championship.

Though it was a scoreless first half, the visiting Ambassadors were showing more intensity and direction in their passing game, as the veteran duo of Robert Muschamp and Wilmer Garcia were bolstered in midfield by the addition of big Bernard “Hijo” Linares, back from a four-game suspension.

Meanwhile, BDF was successful in keeping the Toledo strikers Ashley Torres and Ralph Flores away from clear chances at goal through the stellar individual defensive markings of tall and very athletic flank defenders Tyrone Pandy on the right and Trevor “Burger” Lennen on the left. Burger had the tougher assignment, that of containing the awesome bundle of power, speed and good ball control of Ambassadors’ star striker Ralph Flores. Burger played the game of his life, and was successful in containing Flores, much to the relief of BDF goalkeeper Woodrow West, who saw Flores’ power in a couple of long shots that sailed over the crossbar. Giving up close to eight inches in height to Burger, the frequent futile attempts to challenge air balls, may have taken something out of Flores’ legs, as he was substituted 30 minutes into second half. Flores was nursing a leg strain from the previous Sunday, and thus did not undergo any major workout all week.

On the other end, however, BDF had countered the admitted Ambassadors advantage in recent games in the midfield, with the return to action of multi-talented midfielder/striker Orlando “Leechi” Jimenez, who concentrated on controlling the ball in midfield, challenging everything in the air, and allowing the BDF strikers to find space in attack with his incisive and accurate passing. Without a doubt, the BDF re-deployment of Leechi in midfield served to neutralize Ambassadors’ addition of big Bernard Linares in their middle. In fact, as the game wore on, Leechi’s presence may have tilted the midfield “balance of power” in BDF’s favor, as veteran Ambassadors playmaker Robert Muschamp found himself forced to get back on defence much more than usual, reducing the instances of his touch-and-go partnership with fellow veteran Wilmer Garcia, and generally affecting his contribution to the Toledo attack.

And it was another stellar performance from indefatigable BDF midfielder Richard “Cheety” Jimenez, who once again proved his formidable attacking skills by putting himself in position to pounce on the first opportunity, a cross goal pass from the right goal line by brother Danny Jimenez, that Cheety beat all defenders to and slammed past a helpless Frank Lopez in goal to put BDF in front 1-0 at the 3rd minute of the second half. Toledo defenders claimed that Danny, after falling to the ground during a tackle, used his hands to stop the ball from crossing the right touch/goal line, and then got up to drive the ball across goal for Cheety to score. But referee Gerald Henry reportedly said, “Play on”, and the rule is, “play to the whistle”.

It was a long, hard day for the Ambassadors, considering the tremendous arsenal that the power packed Belize Defence Force team had put into action yesterday. BDF twin strikers Evan Mariano and Danny Jimenez repeatedly tested the Ambassadors’ defence with their blazing speed; Ricky Rickets on right flank and sweeper Dalton Eiley fared better than Ambassadors strong left defender Evon Lino, who was often over-matched in the speed department.

Outstanding young Toledo midfield/winger Devon Makin had to give up three inches and matched athleticism and speed to BDF’s Tyrone Pandy on the defensive flank. Devon played well, but he ran into difficulties trying to penetrate towards the goal line, as the tall but agile and sure-footed Pandy challenged him throughout the game. Besides, later, when Devon switched to the other side of the field, he had to face “Burger,” who no longer had to worry about Ralph Flores, who had already left the game.

Ambassadors other striker, Ashley Torres, who usually enjoys a height advantage over defenders and possesses a deadly “cabeza”, found that the twin towers of Tyrone Pandy and Burger Lennen ruled the air in defence; while Leechi Jimenez was in midfield to challenge air balls against Ambassadors big men Robert Muschamp and Bernard Linares. And on the ground down the midfield for BDF, there were tough and hard working “foot soldiers” David Trapp and Khalil Velasquez, before anything could reach the sharp witted and fleet of foot, Vallan Symms in the sweeper position.

Paul Nunez put in his share of work on the left midfield for BDF, wearing down Ambassadors veteran Wilmer Garcia, who played well, but could not complete the running plays against the younger BDF midfielders.

Devon’s brother, Andres, Jr. also played well in the midfield for the Ambassadors, but he had to deal with no less than Richard “Cheety” Jimenez, who was probably, until yesterday at least, the most underrated player in the league. Perhaps because his other two brothers have been so outstanding, Cheety has often been left out of the limelight. Always dangerous around goal, Cheety scored the critical game equalizer in the first game in Toledo last week, and yesterday his quick goal 3 minutes into 2nd half proved to be enough, as the Ambassadors were held scoreless. For his outstanding play, Cheety was yesterday named Playoff MVP. (His oldest brother, Leechi, was last year’s Playoff MVP.)

It was a heck of a game, and, despite the break BDF received on the first goal, it would have to be conceded that indeed, after all, the better team won; and that’s taking nothing away from the gallant Toledo Ambassadors, under their Coach of the Year, Andres Makin, and his assistant Hilberto Muschamp, who helped to give football fans some of the most exciting and enjoyable games this past season. BDF, under the calm stewardship of coach Gregory “Paisa” Cantun, was up to the challenge on Sunday; like any good general, Paisa was confident he had secured superior firepower in the air and on the ground, with ample reserves, and he wasn’t reluctant to use them, and thus retained for the third consecutive season the BPFL Caribbean Motors Cup.

The starting line-ups for both teams included: BDF – Woodrow West in goal; defence (l to r) – Trevor Lennen, Vallan Symms, Tyrone Pandy; midfield – Paul Nunez, Khalil Velasquez, Orlando Jimenez, David Trapp, Richard Jimenez; forward – Evan Mariano, Daniel Jimenez. Toledo Ambassadors – Frank Lopez in goal; defence (l to r) – Evon Lino, Dalton Eiley, Ricky Rickets; midfield – Devon Makin, Bernard Linares, Robert Muschamp, Andres Makin, Wilmer Garcia; forward – Ashley Torres, Ralph Flores. Referee was Gerald Henry.

A look at the substitutions gives an idea of the ordnance differential. Though up one goal in 2nd half, BDF made the first change, bringing in Erwin “Bird” Flores for Paul Nunez in midfield at the 29th minute of 2nd half. Two minutes later, Ambassadors responded with Ralph Flores departing, to be replaced by Carlos Valle; he is not the Julio “Chuckie” Valle of Sagitun fame. At the 39th minute of 2nd half, young Denmark Casey substituted Leechi for BDF, and 3 minutes later, the second BDF goal came off a Danny Jimenez shot that deflected off a defender and landed in the corner; 2-nil, BDF. James Logan, Jr. was immediately inserted to replace Andres Makin, Jr. for Toledo. In injury time, BDF’s Allan Ponce came in for Cheety Jimenez, amidst beating drums and cheers from BDF fans. The long whistle came a minute later, and it was celebration time for the 3-peat champions, Belize Defence Force. (Exciting young Guatemalan striker Elio Ramirez, who scored for Toledo against F.C. Belize in the regular season, did not appear for Toledo in the semifinals or finals.)

Amandala