Trinidad and Tobago’s 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup dreams died last night in Panama as the young “Soca Warriors” finished a player and two goals short in a 4-2 loss to the host nation at the Estadio Agustín Muquita Sánchez in La Chorrera.
The result means that the Caribbean will not be represented at the Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates after Jamaica lost by an identical 4-2 scoreline to Canada in the opening game of a La Chorrera double header yesterday.
Trinidad and Tobago, like Jamaica, scored first but wilted in the second half as Panama became increasingly dangerous in front of a frenzied home crowd. And the Central American team might have enjoyed a wider advantage at the final whistle but for a string of good saves from Johan Welch and some defiant defending from Josiah Trimmingham.
Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 coach Shawn Cooper said, after the game, that the team with more desire prevailed.
“I think tonight the team that wanted it more came out on top,” Cooper told the TTFF Media. “We had some of our key players not really coming out with their best performance and that hurt us in this match. But overall we felt good about reaching to the point of one game away from qualifying.
“And it’s something that we can take away with us and hopefully build this team for the future including the Under-20 qualifying campaign for 2015.”
The Warriors were in dreamland in the 19th minute as United States-based midfielder Andre Fortune put Trinidad and Tobago ahead with a right footed screamer into the top right hand corner from 25 yards.
It was Fortune’s second goal of the tournament and his last strike, which arrowed low into the same corner off his left boot, inspired a historic 2-0 win for the Warriors against Costa Rica in midweek.
However, Panama pulled level last night from a corner kick in the 35th minute as team captain Jesus Araya held off Brent Sam to belt home despite a touch from Welsh. The Warriors only had 10 players on the field at the time as Levi Garcia was receiving treatment to his knee.
Trinidad and Tobago almost reclaimed the lead just before the halftime whistle as a speculative Sam effort was clumsily juggled around the upright by Panama goalkeeper Jaime De Gracia.
But Panama was inspired from the restart and Trimmingham and Welch both made crucial blocks before disaster struck for the two-island republic.
Panamanian substitute Lester Zuñiga’s angled effort looked like nothing but catching practice for Welch. But the United States-based custodian, inexplicably, failed to hang on as the ball slipped through his hands and squirmed under his body to give Panama the lead in the 62nd minute.
Welch was back to his best in the 72nd minute to deny Panama’s talented target man, Ervin Zorrilla. But, as Trinidad and Tobago pressed for an equaliser, the Central American team appeared to relish playing on the break and a third goal seemed inevitable.
Ismael Diaz duly delivered for Panama with more than a touch of panache. Zorrilla, again, was key as his deft backheel in the opposing box topped off a four-pass move and created space for Diaz to calmly place past Welch in the 78th minute.
And, two minutes later, things went from bad to worse as Trinidad and Tobago right back Shannon Gomez hacked down an opponent in front of the match official and was rightly ejected for a second bookable offence.
Against all odds, the short-handed Warriors conjured up a glimmer of hope in the 86th minute as attacker Akeem Garcia found space on the left flank and his cross was tapped home by substitute Weah Adams.
But, within seconds, Panama restored its two-goal advantage as Martieon Watson, Leland Archer and Trimmingham all failed to cut out a right side cross and Diaz was left with an even simpler finish.
And it was curtains for the Trinidad and Tobago teenagers who failed to become the third local team to play in a FIFA Under-17 World Cup after the classes of 2001 and 2007.
Panama under-17 coach Jorge Dely Valdes, one of his country’s most illustrious former players along with his twin brother Julio César Dely Valdes, credited Trinidad and Tobago with providing tough opposition.
“Panama had a very tough match tonight,” said Jorge Dely Valdes, after the game. “… We had to work very hard to come back into the match but Trinidad kept making it tough for us and also we could not make use of our scoring chances. I think their performance was good but we came back out stronger after the first goal and we had a very good second half.
“We are very delighted to have sealed qualification for the Under 17 World Cup… We have to thank the Panama Federation for the preparation and all the warm up games that we got which turned out to be very important.”
Cooper was not as enthusiastic about his own team’s preparation.
“I hope that we can continue with a good program to take this team into the future,” said Cooper. “For most of the players, this was probably their fifth or sixth international match and I don’t think it’s sufficient for us to be successful at this level. But we still managed to hold our own and get ourselves to this stage.
“And this shows what could be possible if we have preparations that starts long before the tournament and with quality warm-up matches.”
Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-4-1): 1.Johan Welch; 2.Shannon Gomez, 4.Josiah Trimmingham, 5.Leland Archer, 17.Martieon Watson; 6.Brendon Creed (captain); 7.Kishun Seecharan (19.Weah Adams 69), 14.Andre Fortune, 15.Brent Sam (11.Jarred Dass 54), 16.Levi Garcia (8.Aikim Andrews 49); 9.Akeem Garcia.
Unused substitutes: 21.Stephon Seepersad (GK), 10.Matthew Woo Ling, 12.Jabari Mitchell, 13.Anderson Toussaint, 18.Sterling Noreiga.
Coach: Shawn Cooper
CONCACAF U-17 Quarterfinal
Panama 4 (Jesus Araya 35, Lester Zuñiga 62, Ismael Diaz 78, 87), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Andre Fortune 19, Weah Adams 86) in La Chorrera, Panama