The Trinidad and Tobago national football team gave a decent account of itself this evening at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. But, predictably, it was not enough to earn a result against one of the world’s top teams as the “Soca Warriors” fell 3-0 to Argentina in an international friendly.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi, the first man to be named World Player of the Year on four occasions and still just 26 years old, played for the full 90 minutes but, despite one effort against the post, the Barcelona star failed to beat Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams.
The Warriors held Argentina scoreless for the first 44 minutes of the match and twice threatened to take the lead themselves through captain Kenwyne Jones. But the host team eventually got the goals that their ball possession merited as striker Rodrigo Palacio scored a powerful header in the closing seconds of the first half and midfield hardman Javier Mascherano and substitute Maxi Rodriguez completed the score summary in the second half.
“I think there was a definite difference in the quality of the two teams,” said Warriors coach Stephen Hart, in the post-match press conference. “But certainly there were some aspects of our game that showed some positive signs and there are some things we can take from this game.
“The speed of which Argentina did everything, not just in how they possess the ball and how they took advantage of our errors but the speed in which the forced us to play. They forced us into making a lot of errors…
“It’s important for us as nation, for our footballers, at very level, from a youth level and not only when you reach senior, to play teams of this quality because they force you to concentrate for the full game and the intensity at which they do things creates a faster playing environment.”
In truth, neither team was near to its best in a match that looked similar to a pre-season fixture at times.
Argentina was wasteful in front of the opposing goal and misplaced several crosses from advanced areas. Although coach Alejandro Sabella, who is set to make his debut in a FIFA World Cup, might have reasonably pleased with his team’s mammoth share of ball possession—ESPN recorded it at 69 percent for the host team—and the timely offensive surges of Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria, who was Argentina’s most dangerous attacking player.
At the other end, Hart was pleased with his team’s tactical discipline and effort although the tourists were erratic passers in the opposing end of the field and failed to take advantage of several set pieces.
“Quite frankly the ball was another opponent tonight as we were unable to possess it as we should,” said Hart. “I told the players that we kept our shape well. We didn’t make it easy for Argentina. That is something I was pleased with.
“But when we won the ball we did not possess it well and mount any serious attacks. We can do better than that.”
Argentina might have gone ahead in the ninth minute when Messi failed to hit the target from inside the area after good approach play from Di Maria and PSG attacker Ezequel Lavezzi. And, 12 minutes later, Lavezzi drove into the side netting following a long ball from central defender Federico Fernandez.
But Trinidad and Tobago tightened up thereafter and created some chances themselves through enterprising wing play from European-based players Lester Peltier and the tireless Sheldon Bateau.
At the 22nd minute mark, the Warriors had registered two corners to one. And they could have made a more telling mark on the match as Central FC playmaker Ataullah Guerra, who set Twitter ablaze by bowing to Messi before kick off, twice undressed the Argentine defence with clever passes to Jones.
On both occasions, the Cardiff City striker was undone by well-timed lunges from Argentian defenders Hugo Campagnaro and Martin Dimichelis respectively.
Messi had taken over centre stage by then with his dazzling shimmies, bursts into space and clever passes and Trinidad and Tobago’s combative midfield pair of Andre Boucaud and Khaleem Hyland were both booked for challenges on the maestro. Although in Hyland’s case, the caution seemed a touch harsh.
Argentina was getting closer and Bateau inadvertently hit a cross against his own bar in the 41st minute and then watched Palacio head the rebound wide from six yards. And an outstanding piece of defending from Yohance Marshall, another Central player, in first half stoppage time gave the Warriors renewed hope of getting to the interval without conceding.
Di Maria tore away in the Trinidad and Tobago box and squared the box for Messi to tap home from two yards out. Marshall, an expert reader of the game, recovered to poke the ball away for a corner as the stunned Argentines covered their mouths in amazement.
Cruelly, Palacio scored from the resulting Di Maria corner kick with a powerful header that Williams got a hand to but could not keep out. Arguably, Bateau failed to get close enough to the 32-year-old Inter Milan attacker, who celebrated his third international goal in his 22nd outing for Argentina. All three of Palacio’s goals came at the Estadio Monumental.
Five minutes into the second half, Argentina doubled its lead as Messi dusted himself off after being wrestled to the ground by Carlyle Mitchell and spanked a free kick off the upright, which Mascherano prodded home from close range.
Mascherano’s last goal for Argentina came seven years ago and he celebrated with genuine enthusiasm.
Argentina completed its score summary in the 64th minute as Palacio sprinted into space behind Marshall and rounded Williams before teeing up Rodriguez for a straightforward finish.
“We conceded two goals sloppily,” said Hart. “We should have attacked the ball for the first goal. The second one was a well-played free kick and there was not much you can do about that
“I would have liked to see them put under some more pressure with better ball possession and moving the ball shorter and quicker. We were not able to do that and that’s because of the quality of Argentina.
“When they got possession they knew how the slow the game down and then speed the play up and what was really impressive was their counter attack and their transition.”
Hart made five second half changes including 23-year-old England born defender Gavin Hoyte who made his debut alongside 29-year-old brother Justin. It is the first time that brothers have played together for the Trinidad and Tobago senior team in this millennium.
But the Warriors could make no further mark on the game as Argentina completed a triumph that was comfortable without being leisurely.
Argentina (4-2-1-3): 1.Sergio Romero (GK); 3.Hugo Campagnaro, 15.Martin Dimichelis (23.Jose Basanta 46), 17.Federico Fernandez, 16.Marcos Rojas; 14.Javier Mascherano (19.Ricardo Alvarez 69), 5.Fernando Gago (6.Lucas Biglia 46); 7.Angel Di Maria (8.Enzo Perez 62); 18.Rodrigo Palacio (13.Augusto Fernandez 76), 10.Lionel Messi (captain), 22.Ezequiel Lavezzi (11.Maxi Rodriguez 55).
Unused substitutes: 21.Mariano Andujar, 12.Agustin Orion, 4.Pablo Zabaleta, 9.Gonzalo Higuain, 20.Sergio Agüero.
Coach: Alejandro Sabella
Trinidad and Tobago (4-4-1-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 2.Justin Hoyte, 19.Carlyle Mitchell (17.Gavin Hoyte 71), 12.Yohance Marshall, 4.Sheldon Bateau; 23.Lester Peltier, 8.Khaleem Hyland, 14.Andre Boucaud (5.Kevan George 70), 3.Joevin Jones (13.Rundell Winchester 85); 7.Ataullah Guerra (10.Kevin Molino 59); 9.Kenwyne Jones (captain) (11.Willis Plaza 76).
Unused substitutes: 21.Marvin Phillip, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 15.Curtis Gonzales, 16.Marcus Joseph, 18.Densill Theobald, 20.Trevin Caesar.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Argentina 3 (Rodrigo Palacio 45, Javier Mascherano 50, Maxi Rodriguez 64), Trinidad and Tobago 0 at Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires