After 180 minutes of football plus stoppage time, there was no separating the national women’s teams of Trinidad and Tobago and Panama. The two outfits played to their second successive draw today as a 1-1 result at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva followed last Thursday’s goalless tie.
Once more, it was anything but a sterile contest, as the two nations traded blows throughout in their contrasting styles.
Panama manipulated the ball, exchanging passes across the midfield as they searched for gaps in the opposing defence. Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, sought to maximise the athleticism of their front-line whenever possible and create one-on-one battles in attack and defence.
There is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. And in the end, neither team could claim superiority.
Still, it might be saying something that Panama’s two best players were both attackers: tricky playmaker Karla Riley and the marauding Marta Cox. And, for the Women Soca Warriors, last Thursday’s commanding performance by goalkeeper Kimika Forbes was arguably matched this evening by an imperious display from central defender Rhea Belgrave.
Forbes, mind you, stopped a Cox penalty in the 37th minute and made a flying save to keep out Panama substitute Lineth Cedeño in the 77th minute—as the host nation tried to preserve their advantage.
But Belgrave was in inspired form, as she intercepted passes, dominated opponents through a combination of athleticism and no-nonsense tackling, and launched counter-attacks with accurate, lofted passes.
It was as good an individual defensive exhibition as has been seen at a local stadium since maybe Curtis Gonzales’ performance in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico in 2017.
“We can be pleasantly optimistic about the potential of this squad,” said interim head coach Kenwyne Jones, who suggested that a World Cup place is not beyond the current team at full strength.
It was a bold assessment just one week and two games into his debut as head coach, particularly considering the quality of the Concacaf teams that wait up ahead, such as the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Haiti and Jamaica.
Four teams will go directly to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, while another two nations go to a play-off stage—as the Fifa women’s tournament has been expanded from 24 to 32 participants.
There is still a long way to go to close that gap and, considering that the Men’s National Senior Team has not had a single game since the July Gold Cup, there is little to suggest that the Women Warriors can count on the support of the Fifa-appointed normalisation committee either.
However, that should not stop anyone from appreciating a solid showing this afternoon from the ladies. And from Jones too on the bench.
Last Thursday, Trinidad and Tobago, who used a 3-1-4-2 system, were often overwhelmed on the flanks by Panama and owed much to Forbes and the alert defence, marshalled by veteran Lauryn Hutchinson, to finish on level terms.
Today, the Women Warriors did a better job of containing the danger. First, the wide players were more pro-active in applying pressure once Panama came into their half of the field.
Then, as Jones flipped his midfield diamond and used two anchors rather than one, support often arrived far more quickly for the Trinidad and Tobago flankers.
“It helped us massively,” said Jones, of his tactical switch—which also saw one forward, Kennya Corder, drop into midfield to ensure they were not outnumbered there.
The tactical match-up meant that two of Trinidad and Tobago’s three central defenders were free at all times to put out fires, while the Panamanian midfield could count on a free defender in close proximity—with only T&T forward Raenah Campbell left to harass the back four—making it easier for the Central American team to keep possession.
So the hosts were set up merely to absorb pressure? Like we said, it depends on how you like your cat.
In fact, Trinidad and Tobago struck first. Cordner ran on to a long, lofted pass into the channel from defender Victoria Swift and rounded Panama’s flummoxed goalkeeper, Farissa Córdoba, to tuck home her 39th international goal—according to online statistics for the team.
The 32-year-old Cordner is now just four shy of Tasha St Louis’ all-time mark of 43; and surely it is a matter of when that record falls to the Speyside-bred striker, not if.
Stung, Panama tried to up the tempo. Pass across, across, back, across… Always looking for Cox or Riley to free herself, or for a midfield runner to charge into the opposing box in anticipation of a cross.
Midfielder Aldrith Quintero had a decent shout for a penalty in the 15th minute, when captain Karyn Forbes appeared to clip her heels as she tried to get on the end of a Cox delivery.
Not for the first time in this series, referee Cecile Hinds waved ‘play on’.
Then, during a sweeping attacking move, left-side attacking midfielder Schiandra Gonzales, one of three changes to Panama’s starting team, darted inside and hit a dipping shot that Kimika deftly tipped over bar.
In the 35th minute, Panama finally had a penalty after umpteen appeals, as Swift chopped down overlapping full-back Carina Baltrip. But Kimika still refused to be beaten as she dived to her left to deny Cox.
And, improbably, it might have been 2-0 to the Women Warriors before the interval, after Cordner won a free kick on top of the opposing area in the 42nd minute. However, Kimika’s ‘little’ sister, Karyn, had her set piece tipped on to the bar by Córdoba—in the last meaningful act of the first half.
The pattern continued in the second half with Panama maintaining the tempo while Trinidad and Tobago threatened on the break.
Kimika made a fine low stop from Cedeño in the 66th minute. But Panama needed a superb double save by Córdoba to deny Cordner and Laurelle Theodore in the 77th minute, after a clever diagonal pass from Trinidad and Tobago substitute Dennecia Prince.
In seconds, the Central America team were at the other end and, this time, Kimika pushed Cedeño’s effort for a corner.
The spattering of supporters who managed to get seats—the game was supposedly closed to the public—were enjoying every minute of it.
God knows what was going through the mind of American Futsal coach Constantin Konstin, whose tenure as Women’s National Senior Team head coach lasted just one training session. Konstin, who supposedly stepped aside due to other ‘commitments’, watched both friendlies from the covered stands.
Jones had switched to a five-woman defence by then, as Trinidad and Tobago tried to hang on to the result in the drizzling rain. He started the match without injured veteran midfielder Maylee Attin-Johnson and more players were feeling the strain of the physical tests today.
There were just three minutes of regulation time left when Baltrip, having won the penalty in the first half, took matters into her own hands.
From an inswinging Cox corner kick, Baltrip met the ball with a downward header thatsomehow managed to take it past Trinidad and Tobago’s defender at the far upright, Meyah Romeo, to level the scores.
“The ladies were well spent,” said Jones, in reference to his overworked charges.
In truth, Panama deserved the equaliser.
The action did not end there, though. Cedeñio had an acrobatic effort held by Kimika in the 89th minute, Swift produced a timely intervention to thwart a potential winner for Baltrip in stoppage time, while, in almost the last kick of the game, Theodore got a clear run at the Panamanian goal but failed to hit the target.
By the final whistle, Jones wasn’t the only one enthused about the future of the Women’s National Senior Team.
Trinidad and Tobago (3-2-3-2): 1.Kimika Forbes (GK), 8.Victoria Swift, 20.Lauryn Hutchinson (5.Meyah Romeo 46), 4.Rhea Belgrave; 12.Chelcy Ralph, 14.Karyn Forbes (captain); 7.Liana Hinds, 10.Anya de Courcy, 3.Aaliyah Prince (15.Laurelle Theodore 58); 11.Raenah Campbell (13.Dennecia Prince 76), 19.Kennya Cordner (18.Naomie Guerra 81).
Unused substitutes: 21.Tenesha Palmer (GK), 22.Malaika Dedier (GK), 2.Collette Morgan, 23.Adrianna Arjoon, 16.Janelle McGee.
Coach: Kenwyne Jones
Panama (4-2-3-1): 1.Farissa Córdoba (GK); 4.Katherine Castillo, 14.Yerenis De Leon, 2.Yirsi Salas (11.Yvamara Rodriguez 80), 3.Carina Baltrip; 7.Deysire Salazar, 8.Laurie Batista (captain) (17.Yamileth Palacio 62); 6.Aldrith Quintero (19.Lineth Cedeño 55), 10.Marta Cox, 20.Schiandra Gonzales (16.Whitney De Obaldia 62); 9.Karla Riley (18.Ana Quintero 80).
Unused substitutes: 12.Nadia Ducreux, 13.Izaura Tryhane, 15.Susy Cassinova.
Coach: Ignacio Quintana
Referee: Cecile Hinds