Belize entrant again removed from CONCACAF Champions League

Despite renovations to the national stadium, CONCACAF has ruled its pitch is unplayable and removed the Belmopan Bandits from the tournament, with Herediano taking the spot.

The Belmopan Bandits were removed from the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League, the federation announced Tuesday evening.

Belize has had to cede its spot in the competition for the previous five seasons because there is not a venue in the country which meets CONCACAF standards. The Central American federation with the team advancing the farthest is awarded the vacated spot, with Costa Rica's Herediano the beneficiary this year thanks to rival Alajuelense's run to the semifinals of the 2013-14 edition.

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After the national team's Gold Cup appearance in 2013, the Football Federation of Belize requested funds from FIFA to renovate its national stadium, FFB Stadium. Those funds, $1.8 million according to local media reports, were apparently granted but work on the stadium was delayed several times. Still, on June 26, FFB president Ruperto Vicente assured reporters that the team would indeed represent the country in the 2014-15 Champions League.

“Bandits have received the green light," he told reporters. "But we still have the pitch to get ready by the 2 July as confirmed to their participation.  So, yes they are in, and all we need to do now is to prepare the pitch for them.  We make the deadline, but they just have to give us an extension to complete the pitch itself."

While lighting and locker rooms were indeed improved, the pitch "has been deemed unplayable, resulting in the removal of local club Belmopan Bandits from the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League," according to a CONCACAF news release.

Vicente sent a letter Tuesday night to CONCACAF President Jeffery Webb criticizing the timing of the removal, with the tournament already underway, and requesting he revisit the decision.

"This decision in my strongest opinion should not have been made at this late stage;" Vicente wrote in the letter, which was also sent to a number of media outlets and to the presidents of the other Central American soccer federations. "This decision should have been made months before now. Making this decision now has created terrible effect on" the FBB, the Belmopan Bandits and the Belizan public.

However, Vicente also admits that the playing surface was not ready when inspected earlier this week.

“Yes we did not fully complete the field before the visit of the inspector but we assured the inspector that the field would have been fully completed and ready for the game August 21, 2014," he said in the letter.

And while the federation didn't make its plans clear, it did indicate it will fight the decision when Goal USA requested a statement earlier Tuesday night.

"The Football Federation of Belize assures the nation that it has not given up the fight to have the Belmopan Bandits team participate in the Champions League; we believe that Belmopan Bandits has earned the right to participate in this tournament," read the news release. "We will seek the support of our Prime Minister and all Central American Football Federation in resolving this issue.

"We want to thank the Belizean public for their great support to football. This is a sad time for us as administrators of Belizean football."

The Hankook Verdes remain the only Belizean team ever to compete in the Champions League since the format was adopted in 2008. The team played the home leg of its series with Cruz Azul in Guatemala but lost both legs, 6-0.

FIFA and CONCACAF officials could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

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