The region’s most successful football team, Trinidad and Tobago, is on its way to another Caribbean Cup finals.
Another item from “Soca Warriors” captain Kenwyne Jones plus a fine strike from playmaker Ataulla Guerra ensured that the host team advanced on schedule last night after a 2-0 win over St Lucia at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The Warriors will be grouped with defending regional champion outfit, Cuba, in Group A of the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals and avoids host nation, Jamaica, in Group B.
Trinidad and Tobago completes its qualifying campaign on Sunday when Jones’ troops face Antigua and Barbuda in a top of the table clash from 6.15 pm in Couva.
Antigua and Barbuda needs a draw or, at least, to avoid a heavy defeat to qualify as group runner up ahead of the Dominican Republic team, which must defeat St Lucia at the same venue from 4 pm to keep its hopes alive.
Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart anticipates an intriguing battle.
“Antigua is a very organised side,” said Hart, at last night’s post-game press conference, “and they have six or seven players who know what they are doing.”
Antigua has nine overseas-based players in its ranks including 18-year-old right back Connor Peters and 21-year-old playmaker Calaum Jahraldo-Martin, who are youth team players with England Premiership teams Swansea and Hull City respectively.
Their midfield pairing of 25-year-old Keiran Murtagh (Woking—England) and 23-year-old Joshua Parker (Domžale FC—Slovenia) should provide the sternest test so far for the Warriors in middle earth while 23-year-old winger Jorrin John (Nuneaton—England) is a clever customer.
But experienced 29-year-old striker Peter Byers, a former San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC employee, has been a shadow of himself and Antigua’s lack of offensive thrust cost the team yesterday as the “Benna Boys” were held goalless by the Dominican Republic.
For Antigua, Sunday is do or die. But the Warriors showed they can comfortably grind out a result after last night’s physical battle with St Lucia.
“This is a gruelling tournament,” said Hart. “It takes six days to (properly recover from a match) and we had one. So games will be slower.”
Hart made six changes to his starting squad in an effort to give players a longer recovery time and hold something in reserve. But the fresher legs seemed to pay early dividends too as Guerra put the Warriors ahead with a fine strike in the sixth minute after St Lucia failed to clear a cushioned header from Jones.
But, unlike on Wednesday when the Warriors scored three times in the opening 30 minutes, fans had to wait an hour for Trinidad and Tobago’s second item.
San Jose Earthquakes winger Cordell Cato had a thunderbolt fended away by St Lucia goalkeeper Randy Poleon in the 17th minute. But there was little excuse for Guerra and left back Joevin Jones who both missed good scoring opportunities while Jones (K) muffed two sitters.
The Cardiff City striker left the field on a high note with a headed finish from close range in the 67th minute after a melee in the opposing penalty box. It was his ninth goal in 13 internationals under Hart; while his overall tally is 16 goals in 64 FIFA-recognised appearances.
But the coach still had to defend the efforts of his giant 30-year-old striker after the match.
“The thing with Kenwyne is he occupies the mind of whoever he is playing against,” said Hart. “Everybody wants to see Kenwyne score; but he makes a lot of room for Ataulla or whoever is playing the 10… He worked hard, he ran behind the defence and he scored. I can’t ask for more…
“All strikers miss goals.”
Millwall full back Justin Hoyte would not take part in the competition after being ruled out due to a “passport complication.” Twenty-year-old DIRECTV W Connection Alvin Jones made his senior international debut instead at right back with his 23-year-old brother in the other full back role.
“I think Alvin was nervous but he came into his own a bit in the second half and did a bit better,” said Hart. “The only place you can put things right is on the field and we haven’t been on the field enough.”
Columbus Crew midfielder Kevan George lacks the passing range and composure of Dagenham & Redbridge Andre Boucaud but acquitted himself well physically in his first 90-minute spell for the Warriors. And Central midfielder and former two-time World Youth Cup captain Leston Paul finally made his senior debut too at 24.
But pacy 22-year-old Cato was the pick of the newcomers as he drifted inside and outside the field to good effect while 30-year-old Point Fortin Civic custodian Marvin Phillip, in only his second start under Hart, made two outstanding saves against the run of play to earn his clean sheet.
“I thought we were in control of the game,” said Hart. “The only time we got in trouble, we put ourselves in trouble… (But) we were wasteful. We lacked a little bit of composure and were kicking instead of placing the ball.”
The Warriors intend to raise their game on Sunday when Orlando City playmaker Kevin Molino, who scored his first international hattrick against the Dominican Republic last Wednesday, should return to the starting line-up along with Boucaud and the Vietnam-based duo of Hughtun Hector and Daneil Cyrus.
“Hart brought a strong squad,” said Slovakia-based winger Lester Peltier, when asked about the team’s closing fixture against Antigua and Barbuda. “I believe in all my players and we will try to get three points and play entertaining football for our fans.”
Antigua and Barbuda has been warned.
Trinidad and Tobago: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK) (vice-captain); 16.Alvin Jones (6.Daneil Cyrus 70), 4.Sheldon Bateau, 18.Yohance Marshall, 3.Joevin Jones; 5.Kevan George, 8.Khaleem Hyland (17.Leston Paul 71); 23.Lester Peltier, 11.Ataulla Guerra, 13.Cordell Cato; 9.Kenwyne Jones (captain) (20.Trevin Caesar 75).
Unused substitutes: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 7.Hughtun Hector, 14.Andre Boucaud, 19.Carlyle Mitchell.
Coach: Stephen Hart
St Lucia (4-1-3-2): 1.Randy Poleon (GK); 19.Erick Gabriel, 16.Jamil Joseph, 20.Sheldon Emmanuel (captain), 2.Kurt Frederick; 4.Perral Williams; 14.Lester Joseph (10.Zaeehaeus Polius 37), 13.Tremain Paul, 11.Magnum Valcin (8.Everton Lambert 85); 7.Malik St Prix (6.Eden Charles 72), 17.Romiel Felix.
Unused substitutes: 3.Gervan Janvier, 9.Gerlanne Neptunre, 15.Rickson Augustin, 21.Alton Roberts,
Coach: Francis Lastic
Referee: Adrian Skeete (Barbados)
Caribbean Cup qualifying results
(Fri Oct 10)
Antigua and Barbuda 0, Dominican Republic 0 at Couva;
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Ataulla Guerra 6, Kenwyne Jones 67), St Lucia 0 at Couva;
(Wed Oct 8)
Antigua and Barbuda 2 (Keiran Murtagh, Joshua Parker), St Lucia 1 (Kurt Fredericks) at Couva;
Trinidad and Tobago 6 (Kevin Molino 3, 4, 25, Kenwyne Jones 40, 55, Trevin Caesar 76), Dominican Republic 1 (Johnathan Fana 86) at Couva;
(Sun Oct 12)
Dominican Republic v St Lucia, 4 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
T&T v Antigua and Barbuda, 6.15 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.