SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic, CMC – National coach Kyle Lightbourne applauded Bermuda after they came from behind to beat hosts Dominican Republic 3-1 in their final CONCACAF Nations League qualifier at the Estadio Cibao here on Sunday and qualify for the Gold Cup for the first time.
Despite falling a goal behind to a third-minute strike from Enmy Pena, Bermuda rallied with US-based Zeiko Lewis equalising in the 15th minute, before second-half goals from UK-based Nahki Wells (64) and substitute Justin Donawa (74), who plays in the United States, sealed the historic victory.
Bermuda finished fifth in the standings, having earlier beaten Sint Maarten and El Salvador following defeat to Aruba in their opener. Lightbourne said qualifying for the Gold Cup was just the beginning of his team’s journey.
“An emotional day for us, the coaching staff and the players, and hats off to everyone that made the trip down to watch the game,” Lightbourne said after the game.
“This is the beginning of a journey for us and we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We will enjoy the moment and we have to move forward now. We have to raise our level because we are going to a new level,” added Lightbourne.
Danté Leverock, who plays for Sligo Rovers in Ireland, said he was “lost for words” after captaining Bermuda to victory against higher-ranked opponents on their home turf.
“It’s an amazing feeling; it doesn’t feel real,” defender Leverock said. “I’m so proud of the players and staff. It’s a massive achievement. An amazing feeling, I’m still lost for words. We are in the Gold Cup!”
Bermuda went behind early when Pena sent over a cross from the right that dipped inside of goalkeeper Dale Eve’s far post.
However, Bermuda quickly hit back and Charleston Battery winger Lewis restored parity when he finished off an excellent move to leave the sides all square at the break.
Former captain Reggie Lambe, who plays for Cambridge United in England’s League Two, played the ball through to Lejaun Simmons whose cross left Lewis with a tap-in at the back post.
Bermuda took control after the break and Wells, who is on loan at English Championship club Queens Park Rangers from Premier League outfit Burnley, fired the visitors ahead with a shot that went in off the post after Lewis threaded a pass through to him.
Donawa, a forward with Columbus Crew, then put the game beyond reach when he scored with a cracking low shot from outside the box.
The Gold Cup, which will be held from June 15 to July 7, is a biennial competition for teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.