Thirty-nine years ago, Haiti extinguished the football dreams of one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most gifted generations with a controversial 2-1 World Cup qualifying win in Port-au-Prince.
Tonight, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago players celebrated the same result as a nail-biting 1-0 win for the French-speaking Islanders over host nation Antigua and Barbuda ensured that the “Soca Warriors” will return the confederation’s showcase tournament, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, for the first time in six years.
Earlier, at the Antigua Recreation Ground, the Warriors clawed their way to a 2-1 win over the Dominican Republic. But Trinidad and Tobago’s triumph would have been in vain if Haiti and Antigua had played to a draw in the second game of a Caribbean Cup double header at the same venue.
In theory, a draw would have suited both teams as Haiti would have topped the group with Antigua finishing second. But the French-speaking players had other ideas.
Jean-Phillipe Peguero put the visitors ahead in the 19th minute and Haiti hung on stubbornly. Central defender Merschack Jerome was booked for time wasting late in the game while Haitian goalkeeper and captain Jhony Placide frustrated opponents by running the ball into the corners of his penalty box to kill the clock.
The Trinidad and Tobago camp did not mind the gamesmanship one bit.
“I think that was a huge result for Trinidad and Tobago,” Trinidad and Tobago joint head coach Jamaal Shabazz told Wired868, via a phone interview. “Our players were praying for 90 minutes and now they are dancing and singing. I am happy for (co-head coach) Hutson Charles and Derek (King) and the rest of the staff…
“Haiti did us a huge favour there.”
In truth, the Haitian team had its own score to settle.
On 11 November 2012, a late goal from Antiguan Keith Skepple eliminated Haiti from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers at the preliminary stage. Tonight, Haiti delivered a cold plate of revenge.
And, in the process, the coaching duo of Hutson “Barber” Charles and Shabazz succeeded in taking the Warriors to a Gold Cup tournament where ex-Colombia coach Francisco Maturana and former national icon Russell “Little Magician” Latapy had failed.
“It was not the prettiest game,” said Shabazz, of their victory over the Dominican Republic. “It was a dogfight but we got the result. And now we have bought ourselves six months (leading up to the Gold Cup) to get the team organised.
“The goal was always to qualify for the Gold Cup. And now we have done that and taken the monkey off our backs.”
The record book would show Kevon Carter and Kevin Molino as Trinidad and Tobago’s match winners with vital goals in either half. But that does not begin to tell the whole story.
Facing the most important game of their short tenures, Shabazz, who joined the squad barely two weeks ago, and Charles dropped arguably their most talented player, Molino, and replaced him on the left flank with lanky central defender Daneil Cyrus.
It was the sort of gamble that can wreck a fledgling coaching career. Not today, though.
“We felt that the biggest let down tactically is we have so many players who want to come to the ball and not enough who want to open and run into space,” said Shabazz. “Molino didn’t want to do it, Joevin (Jones) didn’t want to do it and Carter kept coming inside from the left.
“We felt Cyrus could manage it and we tried an experiment for 45 minutes to see if we could get our noses in front.”
Molino’s relegation coupled with injuries to Lester Peltier and Hughtun Hector meant that Trinidad and Tobago started with 10 Pro League players today—former Joe Public defender Carlyle Mitchell now represents Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada.
And while Molino flattered to deceive, Guerra took full advantage of the space created by his two orthodox wingers.
The Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA attacker glided past one defender and produced a clever low cross to create Carter’s opening goal in the 14th minute while he was inches away from an insurance item in the second half with a cracking drive that rebounded off the upright.
But a former Pro League employee, Jonathan Fana, was threatening to bite the hand that once fed him.
A constant menace, Fana danced around Trinidad and Tobago hardman Seon Power to conjure up an equaliser for Kerbi Rodriguez in the 52nd minute.
The technical staff responded by sending on Molino. This time, it was Charles’ idea.
“The co-coaching set up is challenging,” said Shabazz, “but it is a work in progress. A coach operates in a spontaneous way at times because he has a gut feeling. But, in our situation, sometimes you can go overboard in trying not to make the other feel you are trying to grab hold of the thing.
“Today, Barber had a gut feeling about Molino and it worked.”
Molino was introduced in the 65th minute and, five minutes later, prodded home the winner after Dominican Republic custodian spilled a Curtis Gonzales effort.
Gonzales started at right back but ended the game in central midfield while Cyrus dropped back into defence and Guerra swapped several positions as the technical staff tried to take advantage of its players’ perceived versatility and tactical intelligence.
Yet, no one did more to preserve the Warriors’ advantage than team captain and custodian Jan-Michael Williams.
Williams made several crucial interventions. But his near post save from Fana in the 88th minute, a combination of agility and defiance, was as valuable to Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold Cup aspirations as Kelvin Jack’s last minute save in Bahrain was to the Warriors of 2006.
“He led,” said Shabazz. “His leadership is one we admire and he will get even better when he loses a few pounds. Jan, Devorn and Densill did everything we could ask of our senior players by encouraging the younger ones to show their commitment; not to strike when the purse is empty.”
The former Caledonia and Guyana international coach was unhappy at North East Stars coach Angus Eve’s criticism of his team selection and hinted that Glen, the leading scorer in all competitions for the Pro League, had a personality issue with Charles since the latter’s stint as assistant to Otto Pfister.
“If Cornell is honest, he will know exactly why he isn’t here and the door is still open for him,” said Shabazz. “He has a Pfister monkey and he has to get it off his back; nobody here has anything personal with him… He has to continue to score goals and work hard and be a positive influence on the youths and not mislead them.
“Money was the first thing he came to address when he joined the training squad but the TTFF has no money…
“The whole of the Pro League will benefit from the team playing in the Gold Cup; so players who found that US$250 was too small to play for were not seeing the bigger picture. We have to strike balance between not allowing ourselves to be exploited and understanding the position we are in.”
The technical staff will request three players be added to its squad tomorrow as cover for injuries as Trinidad and Tobago travelled with 20 players rather than its full allotment of 23. Apart from Hector and Peltier, Power is also nursing a groin strain.
The Warriors will now turn their attentions towards winning the Caribbean Cup outright. But Shabazz warned that football fans accustomed to regional success should still appreciate what the present team has accomplished.
“People might ask why are we are happy to qualify when we should be the best in the Caribbean,” he said. “The reality is our football isn’t there right now and we are no longer the undisputed kings of Caribbean football. We have to get back on track…
“The main thing I want to point out is that it isn’t a football team that advances to the Gold Cup; it is a country. In the Gold Cup, it will not be a TTFF flag or a People’s Partnership or PNM flag. It will be a Trinidad and Tobago flag.”
Spare a moment’s thought for Haiti, though.
In 1973, El Salvador referee José Roberto Henríquez disallowed four Trinidad and Tobago goals in a travesty of justice that resulted in FIFA banning the official for his life. But the 2-1 result stood and the likes of Steve David, Everald “Gally” Cummings and Warren Archibald had to look on as Haiti represented CONCACAF at the 1974 Germany World Cup.
It is debatable whether Haiti can ever atone for that farce. But, undoubtedly, Trinidad and Tobago’s northern Caribbean neighbour gave the likes of Williams, Guerra, Molino and company a new lease on life tonight.
T&T (4-4-1-1 system): 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt); 4.Curtis Gonzales, 20.Seon Power, 5.Carlyle Mitchell, 2.Aubrey David; 11.Kevon Carter (10.Kevin Molino 65), 18.Densill Theobald, 3.Joevin Jones, 17.Daneil Cyrus; 8.Ataullah Guerra (16.Keyon Edwards 81); 9.Devorn Jorsling (14.Willis Plaza).
Unused substitutes: 21.Marvin Phillip, 6.Kareem Moses, 13.Richard Roy, 15.Jamal Gay.
Unavailable: 7.Hughtun Hector, 12.Lester Peltier.
Coaches: Hutson Charles/Jamaal Shabazz
Caribbean Cup 2012
(Tuesday December 11)
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Kevon Carter 14, Kevin Molino 70), Dominican Republic 1 (Kerbi Rodriguez 52)
Haiti 1 (Jean-Phillipe Peguero 19), Antigua and Barbuda 0[standings league_id=8 template=extend logo=true]