Twenty-five-year-old United States-based playmaker Keon Daniel was credited with a fine individual performance in St Kitts yesterday evening as Trinidad and Tobago shook off an early deficit to trounce French Guiana 4-1 in its opening Caribbean Cup qualifying match.
Daniel, who is employed by Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit Philadelphia Union, scored once and helped create two goals as the “Soca Warriors” team enjoyed its first competitive victory since 2014 World Cup elimination, 11 months ago.
“I thought we produced the kind of football that gave us just the right start for the tournament,” interim head coach Hutson “Barber” Charles told the TTFF Media. “We came into this match under some pressure of course because we know a lot of eyes were on us because of everything that was taking place. I thought the guys executed well.”
In the other group match, hosts St Kitts and Nevis defeated Anguilla 2-0 at the same Warner Park venue with goals from two of its overseas-based professionals.
Twenty-year-old Shrewsbury Town midfielder Romaine Sawyers, who is on loan at the England League One club from Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion, opened the scoring after 15 minutes. Veteran MLS attacker Atiba Harris, who plays alongside Trinidad and Tobago’s Carlyle Mitchell at Vancouver Whitecaps, got the second item in the 20th minute.
The St Kitts and Nevis team, which also includes DirecTV W Connection holding midfielder Gerard Williams, is expected to be Trinidad and Tobago’s most significant hurdle in this four-nation group and the two team clash on Friday.
Trinidad and Tobago plays Anguilla on Sunday while St Kitts and Nevis tackles French Guiana. Only the overall group winner advances to a second Caribbean Cup qualifying group stage.
The top three countries at the December 2012 Caribbean Cup in Antigua and Barbuda will represent the region at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda are the only pre-qualified teams for the Caribbean Cup as defending champion and host respectively.
Trinidad and Tobago has not qualified for a Gold Cup since 2007 and faces a steep challenge with the likes of Jamaica, Guyana, Cuba and Antigua and Barbuda all still involved in 2014 World Cup action while Haiti and Grenada have troubled the Warriors in recent times.
The Warriors have not been helped by its farcical Caribbean Cup preparation, which featured more accusations and insults between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) and Ministry of Sport than practice games for the under-funded team.
Only a last minute reprieve from Sport Minister Anil Roberts got the team here in the first place while the T&T technical staff is light of one assistant coach, North East Stars’ Angus Eve, due to his unwillingness to overlook unpaid salaries.
The Warriors then arguably got off to the worse possible start as Ducan Darcheuolle put French Guiana ahead after just 16 minutes.
French Guiana is an outpost of France and therefore not ranked by FIFA and ineligible to compete in World Cup matches. But the tiny nation of just over 230,000 does unearth the odd gem such as Florent Malouda, a European Champions League winner with Chelsea and World Cup player with France.
Malouda’s younger brother Lesly Malouda, who plays professionally with France top flight club Dijon FCO, was at the heart of the French Guiana defence yesterday. But he could not prevent a backlash from the Warriors, nine minutes later.
Daniel freed DirecTV W Connection utility player Joevin Jones whose threaded pass was finished by his former club teammate and midfielder, Hughton Hector, to pull Trinidad and Tobago level.
Hector, who now represents Song Lam Nghe in Vietnam, was making his debut for coach Charles while his international record now stands at seven goals from 13 starts and eight substitute appearances. It is a goal tally that would satisfy a striker let alone a midfielder.
Trinidad and Tobago surged ahead in the 34th minute as lanky 23-year-old Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA striker Jamal Gay scored his first goal in two years after a cross from his club colleague and ex-2006 World Cup midfielder Densill Theobald. It was Gay’s third international strike from seven starts and four substitute appearances.
And, 11 minutes into the second half, Daniel provided daylight between the teams with a powerful volleyed finish after Mitchell headed down a Hector corner kick.
There was still time for a late goal from another Vietnam-based player, Willis Plaza, in the 87th minute. Plaza, a Sai Gon FC attacker, replaced Defence Force winger Kevon Carter and promptly converted after good approach play from Theobald and Daniel to conclude the romp.
Plaza, who made his international debut against Finland in January, now has two goals from three substitute appearances.
It was not all good news for the Warriors as Charles was ejected from the technical area in the 86th minute after voicing his displeasure at Cuban referee Marcos Despaigne following a tackle on Theobald. Charles, a former national midfielder, thought the challenge was rash. Despaigne disagreed.
Trinidad and Tobago will now have just one technical coach, assistant Derek King, on the bench for Friday’s qualifier against Anguilla although goalkeeping coach Jefferson George, who is the present T&TEC coach, might contribute.
Charles was pleased enough at the final whistle though, after a positive opening to the team’s Gold Cup campaign.
“We had a shaky start but I was pleased with the way we regrouped and bounced back,” he said. “We had a couple clear cut chances and even though we failed to put them away, the guys kept going at French Guiana.
“I thought the French Guiana team was not a bad one by any means. They had some players who understand their roles well and they played with a lot of determination and were organised at times.
“But we also got our act together and it showed with the final scoreline.”
National captain and W Connection goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams said it was a tough game but the Warriors were buoyed by national pride.
“It was the first time we had the chance to play together in an international game,” said Williams. “(The result) augers well for our future games.
“The key for us was staying together. We showed that strength and passion and we strive to do well for the country.”
TT (4-3-3 system): 1.Jan-Michael Williams (Capt); 17.Daneil Cyrus, 20.Seon Power, 5.Carlyle Mitchell, 12.Robert Primus; 7.Hughtun Hector (2.Clyde Leon 88), 18.Densill Theobald, 3.Joevin Jones; 11.Kevon Carter (14.Willis Plaza 79), 15.Jamal Gay (10.Richard Roy 69), 19.Keon Daniel.
Unused Subs: Marvin Phillip, Curtis Gonzales, Kareem Moses, Devorn Jorsling, Sylvester Teesdale.
Caribbean Cup 2012 Qualifiers
T&T 4 (Hughtun Hector 25, Jamal Gay 34, Keon Daniel 56, Willis Plaza 87), French Guiana 1 (Ducan Darcheuolle 16) at Warner Park
St Kitts and Nevis 2 (Romaine Sawyers 15, Atiba Harris 20), Anguilla 0 at Warner Park
Editor’s Note: A CFU fixture change means that Trinidad and Tobago plays St Kitts at 8 pm on Friday 12 October 2012 and then Anguilla on Sunday evening.