Defence Force and DIREC TV W Connection advanced to next Sunday’s 2015 Toyota Classic Challenge final after defeating defending champions San Juan Jabloteh and Bankers Central FC in their respective semifinals at the Hasely Crawford stadium yesterday.
Coach Marvin Gordon’s Army/Coast Guard combination got the better of Jabloteh by a 1-0 margin while Connection scraped out of the “Couva Clásico” via a 6-5 win through kicks from the penalty spot, after playing to a 2-2 draw in regular time.
Connection shot-stopper Julani Archibald was the eventual hero, as he made the lone save in 14 penalty kicks to thwart Jamal Jack and the “Couva Sharks.” The result came barely an hour after Connection president David John-Williams was voted in as Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president at the same Port of Spain venue.
Central and Connection were meeting for the fourth time in the relatively young 2015/16 season yesterday but there was very little love or competitive edge lost between the two teams, as they set a fast tempo from the onset.
There were only 20 seconds on the clock when Central attacker Marcus “Lobo” Joseph picked off a loose pass by Connection’s Dominican midfielder Briel Thomas before forcing Archibald into a sharp, low save at his near post.
Central’s enigmatic playmaker Ataulla Guerra produced a mazy run in the eighth minute before feeding Willis Plaza with a beautiful through ball. But the striker was too fancy with the goal at his mercy and was dispossessed by opposing defender Triston Hodge.
Speed demon Neil Benjamin Jr was more decisive when played through on goal in the 15th minute, as he outpaced Central centre half Andre Ettienne before neatly lobbing onrushing Jan-Michael Williams to give the “Savonetta Boys” a 1-nil lead.
Connection’s lead lasted all of four minutes, however, as Plaza and Guerra combined telepathically once more. But, this time, with devastating effect.
Guerra surged though the Connection final third before finding Plaza who intelligently back-heeled the ball into his path to complete the one-two movement. And the Central playmaker’s clinical effort kissed the base of Archibald’s upright before rebounding into the back of the net.
The pace of the first half was lively, if not frenetic, and Central veteran Marvin Oliver was caught napping in possession by opposing playmaker Andre Toussaint, just outside the penalty area, in the 28th minute. However, Oliver was let off the hook as Toussaint failed to test Williams with his left footed shot.
The chances kept coming at both ends and Guerra and Plaza continued to threaten.
Plaza had a goal-bound effort charged down by former Trinidad and Tobago national youth captain Shannon Gomez on the half hour mark while Guerra had a tame shot, from 12 yards out, wrapped up by Archibald in the 42nd minute.
Many supporters were still returning to their seats after the interval when Connection’s Kittian custodian gave Plaza an early Christmas present. Archibald collected a back pass and inexplicably passed the ball to the Central marksman who promptly slotted into an empty Connection net.
Plaza’s goal seemed to take some sting out of Connection’s efforts as the “Couva Sharks” took charge in the middle of the park.
“Hold the ball, hold the ball!” Central coach Ross Russell shouted.
Jomal Williams, who inspired Connection to 2015 First Citizens Bank Cup glory against Central last month, rejuvenated his team in the 65th minute as he forced his namesake, Jan-Michael, into a low save with his dipping 25-yard free kick.
But the Sharks should have have gotten a third goal in the 69th minute, as Guerra and substitute Darren Mitchell waltzed through the opposing defence with some neat passing, only for Plaza to slip and drag his final effort wide.
Enter Connection’s Dwight Quintero in the 78th minute.
The former Central attacker was heckled in song by Central supporters during his warm-up but he delivered the best response possible once on the pitch. The burly marksman was on the field for just four minutes when he met a deep Alvin Jones free kick with a glancing header into the far corner before running in the direction of his detractors to celebrate.
The final few minutes were nervy for both teams and Central’s Nathaniel Garcia, the older brother of AZ Alkmaar’s Levi Garcia, was sent off for his second bookable offence in the 87th minute while Williams (Jomal) and Guerra both came close to a winning goal. Jomal shot just over the angle of post and bar in the 88th minute while, seconds later, Guerra skimmed Archibald’s left upright.
The post did not come to Archibald’s rescue in the shootout, as he and Jan-Michael went the wrong way for the majority of the efforts. But Connection’s goalkeeper guessed when it mattered most, as he stopped a tame Jack shot to secure a 6-5 win.
In the first match of the semi-final double header, TT Pro League’s all-time leading goal scorer Devorn Jorsling scored against the run of play in the 41st minute to dethrone 2014 Toyota Classic champions, San Juan Jabloteh.
Jabloteh largely dominated proceedings in the encounter but their slow ball movement was not incisive enough to penetrate a watchful Army backline.
Tyrone Charles, who operated in a withdrawn midfield role, and winger Nathan Lewis threatened Sheldon Clarke’s goal on various occasions but failed to add to Jabloteh’s 12 unanswered goals in the competition prior to yesterday’s semifinal.
Instead, the decisive moment followed Defence Force midfielder Jelani Felix’s quick thinking, as he set right-back Curtis Gonzales free down the wing to pick out Jorsling. And the Pro League’s most lethal marksman controlled with his left foot before finishing clinically with his right.
Jorsling will try to repeat the trick against Archibald and company at the same Mucurapo venue next week when they go toe-to-toe for Toyota Classic glory.
Central FC (4-2-3-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (captain) (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 12.Jamal Jack, 4.Andre Ettienne, 25.Elijah Manners; 10.Marvin Oliver (11.Darren Mitchell 58), 22.Leston Paul; 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 45.Ataulla Guerra, 99.Marcus Joseph; 33.Willis Plaza.
Unused Substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 5.Akeem Benjamin, 6.Kerry Baptiste, 7.Jason Marcano, 23.Jean-Luc Rochford, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Ross Russell
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 21.Shannon Gomez, 3.Gerard Williams, 5.Triston Hodge, 2.Kurt Frederick; 16.Alvin Jones (captain), 8.Briel Thomas (19.Dwight Quintero 78); 11.Neil Benjamin Jr, 14.Andre Toussaint (17.Aikim Andrews 78), 10.Jomal Williams; 9.Shahdon Winchester.
Unused Substitutes: 1.Terrence Lewis (GK), 12.Demitri Apai, 23.Kevon Goddard, 43.Malick St Prix, 46.Anfernee Frederick.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Referee: Keon Yorke
Man of the Match: Alvin Jones (W Connection)
2015 Toyota Classic semifinals
(Sunday 29 November)
San Juan Jabloteh 0, Defence Force 1 (Devorn Jorsling 41), Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC 2 (Ataulla Guerra 19, Willis Plaza 47), W Connection 2 (Neil Benjamin Jr 15, Dwight Quintero 82), Hasely Crawford Stadium
*–W Connection won 6-5 on penalties;
(Penalty Shootout Sequence)
Connection: Alvin Jones scored, Central: Ataulla Guerra scored;
Connection: Jomal Williams scored, Central: Elijah Manners scored;
Connection: Shahdon Winchester scored, Central: Andre Ettienne kicked over bar;
Connection: Dwight Quintero struck upright, Central: Willis Plaza scored;
Connection: Gerard Williams scored, Central: Darren Mitchell scored;
Connection: Kurt Frederick scored, Central: Marcus Joseph scored;
Connection: Neil Benjamin Jr scored, Central: Jamal Jack had shot saved.