The “Soca Warriors” roared to life in emphatic style tonight with a thumping 3-1 win over Guatemala in their opening match of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago.
It was only the second time that Trinidad and Tobago started a Gold Cup campaign with a victory, after coach Bertille St Clair’s team started the 1998 edition with a similar 3-1 win over Honduras.
Current coach Stephen Hart demanded a flying start from his Warriors in the build-up to tonight’s affair. And surely he could not have hoped for much better than what they gave him in the “Windy City.”
“I thought in the first half we controlled the game,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “We pressed well and we recovered the ball in good areas of the field. We got the goals and we kept possession of the ball well and made Guatemala chased which they were uncomfortable with.
“We came here looking to get a good start and we did just that.”
To put the fixture into context, the Warriors had not scored a goal in their previous 480 minutes—exclusive of a 1-0 training exercise against Haiti, which was not a FIFA-recognised match. And the three Trinidad and Tobago scorers tonight, Sheldon Bateau, Cordell Cato and Joevin Jones, had all failed to score a solitary international goal before from a combined 60 international appearances.
“We needed to come out quickly,” said Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones, in the post-match interview. “We pressed high and pressed hard (and) stopped Guatemala from getting into their rhythm…”
Back in 1998, the Trinidad and Tobago outfit lost its second outing to Mexico and was eliminated. Since then, the number of teams that advance from their group has risen to two plus two from the three third place teams.
Three points might be good enough for the Warriors to move to the knockout stage for the third time and the second straight tournament under Hart. And Trinidad and Tobago would expect to add to their point tally in their final group match against Cuba.
Still, Hart did not have it all his way in a frenetic and sometimes violent match.
Panama referee Jhon Pitti dished out six yellow cards with Trinidad and Tobago players Daneil Cyrus, Khaleem Hyland, Radanfah Abu Bakr and Andre Boucaud got one apiece. God alone knows how Guatemala captain Carlos Ruiz did not see red though.
Ruiz was shown a yellow alone for an elbow into Cyrus’ midriff off the ball and then was not penalised for an even worse infringement as, in the closing seconds of regulation time, he stamped on Warriors custodian Jan-Michael Williams.
Hart might be equally concerned with the way his team wilted in the second half, which allowed Guatemala to pull a goal back and offer some late jitters.
However, that 15-minute first half goal burst was decisive.
Guatemala, who used a 3-4-3 system that has been recently adopted by all its national teams, started the match at a high tempo but were shocked to discover that the Warriors were more than up to the task.
Hart, who unveiled his new 4-3-3 formation tonight, has repeatedly asked the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) for more live-in camps with his squad. And there was ample evidence of the worth of such get-togethers as the Warriors, in three weeks, were transformed from the sluggish team that crumbled 3-0 away to Jordan to the speedy, steely squad that put Guatemala to the sword.
After 11 minutes, the Warriors struck from their second corner of the match as Bateau beat his marker to convert a Hyland cross, which flew in off an upright.
Rather than retreat, the Warriors continued to press high and doubled their lead, four minutes later, after farcical defending from “La Azul y Blanco.”
A Guatemalan clearance ricocheted off the head of Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones and spun up in the air for opposing defender Moises Hernandez, whose backward header was short of defensive partner, Elias Vasquez. And Vasquez then made it a third error in less than a second as he allowed himself to be outmuscled by the diminutive Cato, who brushed him aside before rounding Ricardo Jerez to score.
It was the sort of defending that would have disgraced even a local fete match team.
Trinidad and Tobago again showed more desire than their Central American opponents for the third goal as Jones (J)—who is employed by MLS outfit, Chicago Fire—charged through the centre of the field, won one 50/50 tackle and then reacted quicker to Jerez’s challenge on Cato to fire in the loose ball for their third.
The match was only 25 minutes old at that point.
Trinidad and Tobago might have scored more too as Jones (J) and Cato wreaked havoc on Guatemala’s wing backs and, had Guerra’s offensive play matched the decisiveness of his teammates, they might have had a fourth.
As it were, Jones (K) came closest to a fourth as he pounced on another error off a Cato cross, only for defender Wilson Lalin to make a successful lunging block.
At the half, Guatemala’s Argentine coach Ivan Sopegno tried to revive his team’s fortunes by dropping playmaker Jose Contreras into his midfield two, as they opted to fight back rather than go for damage limitation.
The Warriors’ press was not as energetic after the interval and, as gaps began to emerge, Williams was forced into his first full stretch save in the 58th minute.
Hart was already giving Willis Plaza his instructions to enter the field when Guatemala struck through Ruiz, who beat Abu Bakr to a flicked header by substitute Minor Lopez before slamming a stunning volley past Williams.
It was Ruiz’s 58 international goal, which made the 35-year-old the most prolific goal scorer in Central American history.
He had two sharp opportunities to increase his tally as Contreras and Papa both drove balls across the face of the Trinidad and Tobago goal while Bateau was lucky not to have conceded a penalty with a clumsy late change on another substitute Edgar Chinchilla.
There was no sympathy from the Warriors though who kept their cool in the face of Ruiz’s violent, provocative antics to secure an impressive 3-1 win.
“It’s a good first win but we still have two games to go in this group and we must take care of business first against Cuba on Sunday before we could feel satisfied,” said Hart. “Overall though, we were able to get the three points which was our objective coming into this match,” he added.
“Hopefully we can play more consistently like we played the first half. Guatemala didn’t handle the press from us very well in the first fifteen to twenty minutes. They panicked a little bit.
“But they (Guatemala) have good quality, good footballers with some experience upfront and the second half showed that they could be a completely different team.”
On Sunday at 6.30 pm, the Warriors face a shell shocked Cuban team that lost 6-0 to Mexico tonight.
Cuba went into the match with 16 men as six players were out due to visa issues while there was one defection. Head coach Raul Gonzalez also failed to show due to visa issues.
Trinidad and Tobago would expect to add to Cuba’s woes when they meet in Phoenix.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-3-3): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 5.Daneil Cyrus, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 2.Aubrey David, 8.Khaleem Hyland (14.Andre Boucaud 75), 19.Kevan George, 3.Joevin Jones (23.Lester Peltier 79), 11.Ataulla Guerra (10.Willis Plaza 62), 9.Kenwyne Jones, 13.Cordell Cato,
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 7.Jonathan Glenn, 12.Kadeem Corbin, 15.Dwane James, 16.Rundell Winchester, 17.Mekeil Williams, 18.Yohance Marshall, 20.Keron Cummings,
Coach: Stephen Hart
Guatemala (3-4-3): 21.Ricardo Jerez (GK); 4.Wilson Lalin, 3.Elias Vasquez, 5.Moises Hernandez; 14.Kendel Herrarte (9.Edgar Chinchilla 69), 23.Jorge Aparicio, 8.Jonathan Marquez (22.Minor Lopez 46), 18.Stefano Cincotta (6.Carlos Mejia 46); 16.Marco Papa, 20.Carlos Ruiz (captain), 10.Jose Contreras.
Unused substitutes: 1.Victor Ayala (GK), 12.Paulo Motta (GK), 2.Ruben Morales, 7.Jairo Arreola, 11.Gerardo Arias, 13.Carlos Castrillo, 15.Denis Lopez, 17.Brandon De Leon, 19.Carlos Figueroa.
Coach: Ivan Sopegno
Referee: Jhon Pitti (Panama)
CONCACAF Gold Cup
(The July 9)
Trinidad and Tobago 3 (Sheldon Bateau 11, Cordell Cato 15, Joevin Jones 25), Guatemala 1 (Carlos Ruiz 61) at Chicago;
Mexico 6 (Oribe Peralta 16, 36, 61, Carlos Vela 22, Andrés Guardado 43, Giovani Dos Santos 74), Cuba 0 at Chicago.