The Trinidad and Tobago national football team could feasibly have just 15 available players for tomorrow’s 2012 Caribbean Cup semifinal fixture against Martinique in Antigua after the Caribbean Football Union denied its request to replace two injured players.
The “Soca Warriors” play Martinique from 5 pm at the Antigua Recreation Ground while Cuba tackles Haiti from 7 pm at the same venue.
Trinidad and Tobago is already without injured midfielder Hughtun Hector and winger Lester Peltier while full back Aubrey David is suspended, central defender Seon Power is nursing a groin strain and Ataullah Guerra also has to shake off a knock.
Joint head coaches Hutson “Barber” Charles and Jamaal Shabazz requested the services of St Ann’s Rangers winger Jason Marcano and DIRECTV W Connection midfielder Clyde Leon to replace Hector and Peltier. But the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) rebuffed the application.
The rules state that once the tournament has started,” CFU president Gordon Derrick told Wired868, “you cannot change for injuries.”
The Warriors hoped they would have been allowed reinforcements since they initially registered a 20-member squad rather than the allotted 23 players. Wired868 was advised that the team did not take up its full allocation due to financial concerns although this could not be confirmed by the team management.
Hector’s mishap, an instep injury, is especially distressing for the talented midfielder as he is unemployed and was on the verge of signing a new contract with Vietnamese outfit, Song Lam Nghe
Song Lam Nghe already agreed terms with Hector and his international teammates Daneil Cyrus and Willis Plaza but insisted that it would only sign the trio if they return healthy from the regional tournament. His injury will be assessed again when he returns to Trinidad.
Guerra’s own knock is minor and he is likely to recover in time for the semifinals. But, if Power does not make it, T&T could be left with just four full-time defenders available.
Charles does not want sympathy from the public though; he wants belief.
“I just want the public back home to have faith in the team,” Charles told Wired868, in a phone interview. “We lost one game (against Antigua and Barbuda) and it (felt) like the public lost faith in us. This is a young team in a rebuilding process and we are going in the right direction, so just have faith in us.”
The 2012 Warriors have faced it all. They were insulted and financially neglected by the Sport Ministry at one stage, stranded by a tropical storm in St Kitts and Nevis and snubbed by one of its key players, Keon Daniel.
Television rights for the Caribbean Cup competition were available for purchase at a cost of US$5,000 (TT$32,125) per match. But neither the Sport Ministry nor corporate Trinidad and Tobago paid up for the benefit of local football fans, who had to make do with live streaming online instead.
At present, Sport Minister Anil Roberts is at the World Swimming Championship in Istanbul, Turkey where he is doubling up as coach for George Bovell.
The Warriors are refusing to lose sight of their goal, though.
Shabazz, who was drafted into the squad two weeks before the tournament, said he was amazed by stories of the hardships suffered by the cash-strapped team in St Kitts were meals were often late and inadequate.
“There was no money to do anything and the guys just buckled their belts and fought,” said Shabazz. “This group has demonstrated high levels of commitment and the ability to emerge on top despite adversity. So, we go forward whether lightly armed or heavily equipped.”
They do not come much more testing for Trinidad and Tobago than Martinique. In competitive meetings since 1983, T&T has won seven matches while Martinique triumphed in six.
The French Islanders have been the most impressive of the most four semifinal teams in this tournament thus far with four goals scored and one conceded to go with two wins and a draw.
In contrast, the Warriors limped into the knock out round with the least goals scored and the most conceded—two and four respectively—of the group qualifiers.
Trinidad and Tobago and Martinique play a similar 4-3-3 system. Shabazz and Charles meet tonight to finalise tactics for the affair.
Charles told Wired868 that he is pleased with the work of the joint coaching set-up so far, which is unprecedented in local football.
“The guys have been warming to Jamaal’s approach,” said Charles, “and I have been giving him a lot of leeway in that area since they already know what Derek and I bring. It has been working out well and it will continue to work well.”
Shabazz agreed although he admitted to teething problems and some lighter moments too.
“We split up the team talk with the squad,” he said. “Charles talks first about the game, then I come in and discuss our tactical approach and then (assistant coach) Derek (King) goes over dead ball situations. Sometimes (technical director) Anton (Corneal) talks too.
“At first, you noticed that the players might nudge each other and have a quiet giggle at hearing so many voices. They know it is a challenge for us. But they know the benefit of it and I have not seen disrespect in this team.”
Trinidad and Tobago and Martinique met only twice before in knock out fixtures and the two island republic won both. The highlight was the 1994 Caribbean Cup final when, inspired by captain David Nakhid and a successful revolt against the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) for better match fees, the boys in red, white and black swept away Martinique by a 7-2 margin.
Charles, a classy and versatile midfielder in his pomp, was among the scorers in that final.
He wants to help the Warriors return to such heights but warned that it will be a long trek and the players would need support.
“Our aim is to get Trinidad and Tobago back on top,” said Charles, “and not just in the Caribbean but in CONCACAF too. It won’t happen right away but I want the public to have faith and trust in us.”
Martinique, with any luck, would represent another stepping stone.
T&T: 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt), 21.Marvin Phillip; 4.Curtis Gonzales, 17.Daneil Cyrus, 5.Carlyle Mitchell, 6.Kareem Moses; 11.Kevon Carter, 18.Densill Theobald, 3.Joevin Jones, 16.Keyon Edwards, 10.Kevin Molino; 9.Devorn Jorsling, 13.Richard Roy, 14.Willis Plaza, 15.Jamal Gay.
Doubtful: 20.Seon Power, 8.Ataullah Guerra
Suspended: 2.Aubrey David
Injured: 7.Hughtun Hector, 12.Lester Peltier.
2012 Caribbean Cup semifinal
(Friday December 14)
Trinidad and Tobago v Martinique, 5 pm, Antigua Recreation Ground
Haiti v Cuba, 7 pm, Antigua Recreation Ground
Editor’s Note: T&T kick off moved to 5 pm