The “Soca Warriors” sent a signal to their CONCACAF rivals last night with a gritty 2-1 exhibition win away to Panama at the Estadio Romel Fernandez in Panama City.
It was Trinidad and Tobago’s first win away to Panama since 2005 and their first triumph of any kind against the respected Central American team since 18 March 2009.
Captain Kenwyne Jones put the Warriors ahead in the 40th minute with a ferocious blast from the edge of the opposing 18-yard box while central defender Radanfah Abu Bakr doubled the lead in the 52nd minute with a close ranged header off a Keron Cummings corner kick.
But Panama winger Valentin Pimentel pulled a goal back for the hosts in the 59th minute. And it took a tremendous display from overworked central defenders Abu Bakr and substitute Daneil Cyrus to preserve the result as the Warriors were under tremendous pressure for the closing 30 minutes.
There were no points at stake in Panama City but the Warriors, who start their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign away to Guatemala on November 13, were anxious to show their mental toughness.
And, with a home game next Tuesday against Nicaragua, a positive showing was important to get bodies through the turnstiles at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and, hopefully, get a few signed cheques from corporate Trinidad and Tobago.
Once more, the boys in “Red, Black and White” made full use of the opportunity.
Short on experience in the attacking midfield positions—due to injuries to Lester Peltier and Ataulla Guerra and the unavailability of Cordell Cato and Rundell Winchester—coach Stephen Hart improvised by starting two centre forwards, Jones and Jonathan Glenn, in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, which saw the Warriors defend high up the pitch.
After a sterile start to the affair, Jones had the first opportunity of the match in the 14th minute, as he spun his marker but delayed his shot and was closed down by opposing left back Erick Davis.
It was not until the 27th minute that anyone else managed a sight of goal and, this time, it was the turn of his strike partner, Glenn. Jones played a perceptive through ball to free his namesake, Joevin Jones, down the left flank but Glenn failed to get on the end of the winger’s inviting cross.
There was a scare for Trinidad and Tobago in the 33rd minute, as Panama striker Roberto Nurse headed in from an inswinging free kick. But it was an obvious offside call and the referee did his job.
Then, in the 36th minute, Hart’s two big centre forwards combined to draw first blood.
Panama failed to cut out a simple left side throw in and Glenn teed up Kenwyne, who took one touch before smashing the ball past opposing goalkeeper Jaime Penedo from the edge of the area.
It should have been 2-0 to T&T, five minutes later, as the Joneses combined again after some fluent interplay. But Kenwyne muffed a simple headed chance off another brilliant left side Joevin cross.
Hart swapped Glenn for the bustling, diminutive attacker Trevin Caesar at halftime and the Warriors immediately looked more comfortable as they reverted to their customary 4-2-3-1 formation.
Hyland released Caesar with a lofted diagonal pass in the 49th minute but Joevin squandered the winger’s cut back with an ugly effort with his right foot.
Remarkably, the chances kept coming and Trinidad and Tobago finally got their second in the 52nd minute, as Panama’s substitute custodian Luis Mejia failed to read a Cummings corner and Abu Bakr finished with a cushioned header.
It was Abu Bakr’s second senior international goal. His first strike was six years ago in a 3-2 win away to St Kitts and Nevis under then coach Russell Latapy.
In theory, Trinidad and Tobago’s 4-2-3-1 system should have offered more protection for goalkeeper Marvin Phillip’s backline in the second half. But it did not pan out that way, in part because the host team seemed to have identified a lack of cover for the Warriors’ full backs.
England-based right back Gavin Hoyte was overworked in the first half and, after the interval, it was the turn of Trinidad and Tobago left back Mekeil Williams to be left exposed, as Panama began to tear down either flank.
The host team’s lone goal came on one of the rare occasions that the Panama winger stepped inside rather than sprinted down the flank.
In the 59th minute, Pimentel cut in from the left and delivered what was surely meant to be a far post cross. Panama striker Luis Tejada dived unsuccessfully at the cross and his movement distracted Phillip, who lost the flight of the ball.
And Pimentel’s cross-cum-shot crept into the far corner to halve the visitors’ lead.
Panama zipped the ball around at pace for the final half hour and whipped a stream of crosses into the opposing box. But the Warriors, led by the towering Abu Bakr, gave little away and the host team had few scoring opportunities.
Trinidad and Tobago next face the Nicaragua team that gave Jamaica a fright before being eliminated from the 2018 qualifying campaign in a two-legged contest.
The game kicks off at 7 pm and tickets—priced at TT$200 (covered) and TT$100 (uncovered) can be purchased online at www.islandetickets.com or at all Sports & Games outlets, Kenny’s Sport Shop in Port of Spain, Ramsingh’s in Couva and Fan Club in Movietowne, Gulf City and Trincity Mall.
After a defiant showing in Panama City, the Trinidad and Tobago players must now demonstrate their ability to dictate proceedings in front of a often fickle home crowd in Port of Spain.
So far, so good.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-4-2): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 16.Gavin Hoyte (2.Aubrey David 79), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 4.Sheldon Bateau (23.Daneil Cyrus 55), 17.Mekeil Williams; 20.Keron Cummings, 8.Khaleem Hyland, 14.Andre Boucaud (19.Kevan George 64), 3.Joevin Jones (15.Neveal Hackshaw 77); 7.Jonathan Glenn (11.Trevin Caesar 46), 9.Kenwyne Jones (10.Willis Plaza 81).
Unused substitutes: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 13.Aikim Andrews, 18.Yohance Marshall.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Panama (4-4-2): 1.Jaime Penedo (GK) (12.Luis Mejia (GK) 46); 6.Gabriel Gomez, 13.Adolfo Machado, 23.Felipe Baloy (captain), 15.Erick Davis (17.Luis Henriquez 62); 14.Valentin Pimentel (8.Gabriel Torres 79), 11.Armando Cooper (2.Leonel Parris 46), 20.Anibal Godoy (7.Renan Addles 62), 19.Alberto Quintero; 9.Roberto Nurse, 10.Luis Tejada (16.Rolando Blackburn 62).
Unused substitutes: 22.Jose Calderon (GK), 3.Roderick Miller, 4.Abdiel Macea, 18.Darwin Pinzon, 21.Ricardo Buitrago.
Coach: Hernan Gomez
(Thursday October 8)
Panama 1 (Valentin Pimentel 59), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Kenwyne Jones 40, Radanfah Abu Bakr 52) at Panama City;
(Tuesday October 13)
Trinidad and Tobago v Nicaragua, 7 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.