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From Boreham Wood to Tampa Bay

Justin Cochrane may have spent the last few weeks of the season playing reserve football at non-league level, but this week he is preparing for his country’s biggest game of football in its history.

The 30-year-old is our Academy Player Development and Skills Coach, a job he combines with playing football for Football Conference Blue Square Bet South side Boreham Wood…and Antigua and Barbuda on the international stage.

And this Friday, Justin and his Antiguan team-mates take on the mighty USA in a World Cup qualifier at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, home of NFL side Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an arena which can hold just 15,000 fewer fans than the 80,000 population of the tiny Caribbean island!

Antigua and Barbuda are contesting Group A of the CONCACAF semi-final round of the 2014 World Cup Qualifying, alongside the US, Jamaica and Guatemala – the first time they have reached this stage.

For Justin and the rest of his compatriots, the game against the USA has captured the imagination and he cannot wait.

“The buzz back home is incredible, the people are really excited and for the players, it will be a fantastic experience to be a part of,” explained Justin, who has worked within our Academy since 2009.

“No-one gives us much of a chance, but it’s a great opportunity for the lads. The USA have had warm-up games against the likes of Scotland and Brazil, while we’ve played the local team in Tampa, so that tells you all you need to know.

“But we are going into the game with real belief that we can get a result,” he added. “We’ve got players who can cause them problems, including UK-based lads like Dexter Blackstock, who has scored plenty of goals in the Championship, and Mikele Leigertwood, who scored the goal which got Reading promoted to the Premier League.

“They are clear favourites though. We have a population of 80,000 while they have hundreds of millions to choose from. If ever there was a David and Goliath contest, this is it!”

Although ending the season in Boreham Wood’s reserves, the former QPR, Crewe Alexandra, Rotherham and Yeovil player has been keeping fit at Spurs Lodge and is raring to go to face the US.

“I wasn’t playing that much towards the end of the campaign and I wasn’t at the height of fitness, so I’ve been working hard at the Lodge, doing my own training and putting in the hours,” Justin said.

“Hopefully it will be worthwhile and to be playing against the likes of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will be amazing.”

After the game against the USA on June 8, Antigua entertain Jamaica at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds on June 12.