Trinidad and Tobago football fans were not the only ones who were left underwhelmed last night as the Soca Warriors fell 2-1 to Suriname in extra time of their 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup playoff contest at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
Suriname coach Roberto Godeken said he too anticipated more bite from the host nation, even as the South American outfit celebrated their first win over the two island republic since 1985 and their first competitive triumph in this derby since 1979.
“I was expecting more of the [Trinidad and Tobago] team regarding the players who are playing outside of Trinidad,” said Godeken, through a translator. “It looked as though Trinidad were playing a little bit easy. And although they were doing that they are a good team and they have players who can change the game in one minute. But I was expecting more from Trinidad and Tobago.
“We knew that Suriname did not have so much strength so we had to put a game plan where we had a lot of patience in the game. We were looking for opportunities to score a goal but we had a lot of patience in keeping the ball and looking to strike when it was necessary.”
The hosts surrendered possession to their Surinamese visitors for long periods in the first half and applied little to no pressure on the ball. The nippy Suriname attacking trio of Roxey Fer, Sorencio Juliaans and Dimitrie Apai took advantage as they were able to get into positions to collect and work short passes in the final third.
Saintfiet explained that he wanted his team to strike on the counter attack to utilise the pace of wingers Tyrone Charles and Nathan Lewis—both San Juan Jabloteh employees.
But he conceded that his central defensive pairing of Radanfah Abu Bakr and Carlyle Mitchell had their own problems negating the threat of the Suriname attackers.
“Suriname didn’t surprise me [because] I saw them play against Guyana,” said Saintfiet. “They were 1-nil down in the first five minutes and they came back—also in extra time—to win 3-1. They have a lot of players who are skilful on the ball. And for sure we had some difficulties with Fer and Juliaans.
“Maybe if Maurice Ford was available I would have opted to start with him because he is smaller and more aggressive and faster. Now, I had to start with two tall central defenders who sometimes had problems at the beginning of the game with the speed and actions of the players of Suriname.”
Mitchell and Abu Bakr may have had their hands full with the tenacious duo of Fer and Juliaans on the defensive end, but both centre backs also had presentable scoring opportunities from set pieces in the first half.
In the 29th minute, Abu Bakr glanced a Charles free kick wide, while Mitchell followed suit from another Charles delivery in the 40th minute.
Apart from terrorising defender Miquel Darson with speed and trickery down the left flank, Charles’ set pieces were always a threat. And he scored a picture-perfect free kick to tie the game up at one in the 82nd minute. Saintfiet was disappointed that his team did not make better use of the other set piece chances created by the tricky winger.
“I think in the first 70 minutes we played with good possession and we created a lot of opportunities from there,” said Saintfiet. “If you count the number of corners we had and the danger we created from these corners, it was quite a lot. The only problem is that we didn’t score out of these chances.
“If we scored the opening goal, I’m sure we would have won the match. So there is the first problem, we didn’t score the goal.”
Arguably, another important absence was veteran marksman Cornell Glen who hobbled off the field with a suspected hamstring injury, moments before kickoff. Glen, who is fifth on Trinidad and Tobago’s all-time scoring charts, inspired a comeback victory against Nicaragua in friendly action in Managua last week.
The Warriors struggled to test Suriname goalkeeper Claidel Kohinor without him.
“We made our strategy already clear in Nicaragua that we wanted to play with Cornell Glen [as the main striker],” said Saintfiet. “We were told that we couldn’t have him 20 minutes before the game. We had to make a change of strategy and bring Akeem Roach in. This also meant that I had no extra striker [in Trevin Caesar] on the bench as I only had six replacements on the bench […] so we started already with a setback.
“The moment Cornell Glen got injured, I wanted to put my 19th [choice] player [Trevin Caesar] in the first 18 because I could have seven reserve players. And I got information that it wasn’t allowed.”
The Warriors lacked creativity and cohesion in the midfield, played errant passes and were second best to many loose balls. But despite all of that, Saintfiet thinks they should have given the partisan 3,000-odd supporters a victory.
Saintfiet thinks his team—who chased the ball for much of regulation time by tactical design—ran out of steam.
“This is the third game in a short period of time at national team level [and] I noticed that in the first 90 minutes some of us [sic] were struggling physically,” said the Trinidad and Tobago coach. “Some of them really battled through as they didn’t want to let the team down. But I’m sure that physically we are not fit [enough] to play international football.”
Saintfiet attributed the fatigue to the fact that most of his overseas pros were in their off-season, while he stated the tempo of the TT Pro League is not quite up to international standard. Still, the Belgian coach expected more punch from his reinforcements on the bench. But he was left wanting there also.
“Later in the match I think we had too little power or energy in our replacements who came in. Sure I was limited because I only had six instead of seven. But those who came in didn’t bring what they brought in Nicaragua.
“And naturally if you bring a fresh player in, you expect that they would fight and battle and fly all over the pitch because they are less tired than the other players.”
Mexico-based attacker Shahdon Winchester was perhaps the pick of Saintfiet’s subs, and it was his customary feisty play which created the opportunity for Charles’ sublime curling free kick. Winchester also spanked a volley over bar in extra time minute after treating his marker to a sombrero on the edge of the area.
However, Winchester was not as decisive as Surinamese reinforcements. The lightning fast Galgyto Talea was just thwarted by Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Adrian Foncette in the 92nd, after escaping Abu Bakr on the edge of the box while Gillian Maatrijk was also a threat.
But it was another sub, Ivanildo Rozenblad, who decided the game as he curled a long distance shot past Foncette and into the far corner in the 109th minute.
Saintfiet raised eyebrows with his response as he sent the lanky central defensive duo of Abu Bakr and Mitchell upfront.
Does that mean he might still have use for giant centre forward Kenwyne Jones?
Saintfiet tried to explain his decision.
“I spoke with Kenwyne a long [time] ago and Kenwyne is a great player with fantastic history. And still a good future. I had a long talk with Kenwyne out of respect for the reason that you talk personally with the captain and don’t wait to announce the squad in the media.
“I thought it was not opportune for me to select Kenwyne Jones in this team and put him on the bench in this team for my basic strategy. Again, I have to go back to the fact that I wanted to start with Cornell Glen. With a last minute injury he was not available. I wanted to have Trevin Caesar on the bench but that was not possible.
“After you could say maybe in the last 30 minutes a top fit Kenwyne Jones would have helped us but that’s speaking afterwards.”
Ironically, Jones played from off the bench on several occasions under former coaching duo of Hutson Charles and Jamaal Shabazz, who preceded Stephen Hart. At present, Shabazz is serving as Saintfiet’s assistant.
Regardless, Saintfiet’s decisions have so far gone over very well with supporters. And his popularity will grow further if the Warriors can manage a win over Haiti at the Ato Boldon Stadium from 5pm on Sunday.
But first, Saintfiet needs the Haitians to do him a favour by topping Suriname tomorrow.
“This is a very disappointing result but nothing is over yet. We need to hope that Haiti wins on Friday,” said Saintfiet. “It doesn’t matter which result but once Haiti wins against Suriname. Then it’s up to us if we can beat Haiti in 90 minutes in a better score than they did and what we lost to Suriname. And then we can still qualify.
“But naturally it’s very sour at the moment to imagine that it’s not in our own hands. We have to support Haiti on Friday. And we have to recover now and hopefully Cornell Glen will be fit and next match I can have seven players on the bench and not six. And we will be ready to bounce back and still qualify.”
Saintfiet said he did he feel any external pressure from last night’s loss to Suriname.
“For me I don’t feel pressure because we lose. The biggest pressure is for myself. I’m here to win. So I won’t sleep tonight. I’m sure I will repeat a lot of the match in my mind and on the other side I can’t change anything that happened.
“I would be more happy if we had won but even if we won we would not have qualified as yet. Just like now, we are not yet out. We have to be very positive minded and I will work very hard with my coaching staff and team to do everything to turn this around. We are at minus one but we can still add to plus one and that’s our target.”