Trinidad and Tobago’s dream of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Chile at the 2016 Copa America Centenario competition ended with barely a whimper this evening, as the “Soca Warriors” fell 1-0 to Haiti in a decisive play off contest at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.
Haiti is ranked 79th in the world by FIFA, some 29 places lower than the Warriors. But there was nothing flukey about the result, as the Haitians were rewarded for their ambition and verve in the second half while Trinidad and Tobago played in spurts and only really came alive once behind.
Haiti’s goal, which striker Kervens Belfort claimed in the 85th minute, left the Warriors with little time to recover though. And Trinidad and Tobago’s best attempt at goal came off the boot of a Haitian defender, as Jean-Marc Alexandre nearly diverted a Joevin Jones cross past his own goalkeeper.
But, as he was throughout the contest, Steward Ceus was up to the task between Haiti’s upright.
The result snapped a five-match unbeaten streak for coach Stephen Hart’s men. But, worse, it denies the Warriors the chance of top notch international matches in June against the type of opposition that doesn’t usually pick up the phone when the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) rings for a game.
In the political jostling between the squad and the new David John-Williams-led administration, as evidenced in a threatened strike by the players over match fees last month, the Warriors also could not pick a more inappropriate time to lose steam.
Trinidad and Tobago fans might take solace in the absence of captain and forward Kenwyne Jones, who was unavailable as he prepares his move to United Arab Emirates club, Al Jazira.
Jones has 15 goals in his last 27 appearances for the Warriors and is steadily winning over his earlier critics.
Defenders Sheldon Bateau and Justin Hoyte, striker Willis Plaza and midfielders Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings, Kevin Molino and Hughtun Hector were also absent.
Yet, Haiti were missing nearly half the squad that played in their last 2018 World Cup qualifier in November—seven players in total—while new coach Patrice Neveu has been in charge for just over one week.
Yesterday, Hart described the Copa America play off as Trinidad and Tobago’s most important game since their 1-0 win over Bahrain in the 2006 World Cup continental play off.
“For us, it is extremely important that we do our best to qualify for the Copa,” said Hart, “because it will aid and assist us in our progress towards World Cup qualification.
“I don’t think we can pay or put a price on the experience we would get on playing in such a prestigious tournament.”
But the Warriors showed little enthusiasm for the contest in the opening 45 minutes, despite playing basically the same team that drew 3-3 with Mexico last September.
Haiti were just as stodgy early on and it meant for a dreadfully dull first half.
It was not until the 47th minute that either team managed a really threatening attempt on goal, as Trinidad and Tobago left back Mekeil Williams forced Ceus into a reflex save to push his attempt for a corner.
But the tempo of the affair changed dramatically after Neveu sent on dreadlocked maestro Sébastien Thurière and speedy winger Pascal Millien in the 52nd and 56th minutes respectively.
Hart responded by introducing striker Shahdon Winchester for Jonathan Glenn, who was part of an anonymous front pairing with Khaleem Hyland. And Winchester, who celebrated his 24th birthday today, might have been an inspired change.
First, Winchester teed up Hyland in the opposing penalty area, off a Joevin cross, only for the midfielder to hit tamely at the Haitian custodian. Then, Winchester might have been the hero himself but his touch deserted him, as he ran on to a right side Lester Peltier cross.
At the other end, Millien was taking to Mekeil like a dog to a chew toy. And, as the game became increasingly stretched, the Warriors looked surprisingly uncomfortable at the back.
Stand-in captain, Jan-Michael Williams, produced a superb save to deny Belfort in a one on one opportunity in the 78th minute. While, five minutes later, Belfort and Jean Maurice were inches away from meeting a dangerous Millien cross, after the winger danced away from Mekeil.
But the Warriors’ good fortune would not hold.
In the 85th minute, Millien delivered an angled cross into the penalty area, as Mekeil stood off. Belfort went at it and claimed the decisive touch although replays were inconclusive.
But what mattered most is that Jan-Michael could not stop it, as the ball bounced across the goal line with only five minutes left in regulation time.
Remarkably, the Warriors almost answered within seconds as Joevin’s firm cross picked up a wicked deflection off Alexandre’s boot, only for Ceus to respond with the save of the match.
Ceus, at 28 years of age, made only his eighth senior international appearance today. But surely it was his most memorable.
Hart sent lanky defender Radanfah Abu Bakr upfront for the closing minutes, as the Warriors drove long balls into the opposing penalty area. But Neveu responded by swapping a striker for a defender as Haiti held on for a famous result.
The tale of the tape, after the final whistle, showed that both teams completed an almost identical number of passes—a measly 150 to 149—while Haiti’s share of the ball was a far from lopsided 56 percent.
But Haiti had 12 shots on target. Trinidad and Tobago mustered just three.
In two and a half years, Hart has led the Warriors into 18 competitive matches and lost just thrice in regulation time. Two of those defeats were to Haiti—a team that possesses the athleticism and aggression to nullify Trinidad and Tobago’s pace.
At the moment, Trinidad and Tobago are FIFA’s number one ranked team in the Caribbean. But it will feel like a hollow achievement in June when they watch Caribbean champions, Jamaica, and Haiti competing at the 2016 Copa America Centenario competition.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 5.Daneil Cyrus, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 17.Mekeil Williams, 19.Kevan George (15.Neveal Hackshaw 81), 14.Andre Boucaud, 23.Lester Peltier, 8.Khaleem Hyland, 3.Joevin Jones; 7.Jonathan Glenn (10.Shahdon Winchester 57).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 2.Aubrey David, 20.Trevin Caesar, 9.Rundell Winchester, 11.Ataulla Guerra, 13.Cordell Cato, 18.Yohance Marshall, Jomal Williams.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Haiti (3-5-2): 1.Steward Ceus (GK); 3.Méchack Jérome, 13.Kevin La France (15.Sébastien Thurière 52), 6.Frantz Bertin (captain); 2.Stéphane Lambèse, 16.Jean Marc Alexandre, 19.Max Hilaire, 14.Soni Mustivar (11.Pascal Millien 56), 5.Alex Christian; 9.Kervens Fils Belfort, 10.Jean Eudes Maurice (18.Judlin Aveska 89).
Unused substitutes: 12.Valendi Odelus (GK), 23.Jaafson Origène (GK), 22.Junior Delva, 17.Woodensky Chèrenfant, 4.Kim Jaggy, 21.Constant Monuma, 7.Sony Nordé, 8.Wedson Anselme, 20.Duckens Nazon,
Coach: Patrice Neveu
Referee: David Gantar (Canada)
Man of the match: Pascal Millien (Haiti)
2016 Copa America Centenario
(Friday January 8)
Haiti 1 (Kervens Fils Belfort 85), Trinidad and Tobago 0 in Panama City;
Panama v Cuba, Panama City, 9.30 pm, Panama City.
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But folks, isn’t intensity, then lack of intensity so very Trinidadian?
Maybe if our footballers were like most of the other athletes who represent T&T and focused on training, the game and national pride instead of always ‘pay-check’ and ego..things may start going our way..just a thought
The level of desire and lack of intensity was embarrassing yesterday . Can’t believe how casual we were
This result have less to do with tactics and technical ability and more with mental toughness and focus
Thank you. Reading here…waiting to see that. Desire, will power, and most of all “bad mind” could have brought us that victory
I’d generally agree with that Cheyenne. Although our set pieces are a real plus. We are generally good for a set piece goal or two and we will need that against teams that sit deep.
It’s only recently that we’ve started making use of set pieces. Historically, we’re usually wasteful with them.
Our deliveries into the box were poor whether they were from open play or not yesterday.
Kenwyne isn’t Messi to dictate to football clubs. I think the negotiations were in a sensitive stage and it needed Kenwyne to be able to hop a plane to Dubai at a moment’s notice.
I’m sure he wanted to play.
It’s the man livelihood … why shouldn’t he sort it out?
No issue with sorting it out. I’m asking why then? When you’re captain of your country, you cyah tell mankind, ‘hold up; I coming tomorrow’?
They have no obligation to hold up anything for him. Suppose he gone there play and get injured …why would they want to offer him a contract then to come play here for $500 and your team pulling stones? Hell no!!
The assumption is that he being offered a contract on his standard of play for previous club AND country. No? It’s not like he asking to hold up to go Stumped in de Oval. He’s doing it for the very reason he attracted their attention in the first place.
Anyhoo, I doh run a club so you may be right. Just surmising.
That wouldn’t be sound business sending your prospect to a game where he could be injured …. and it def wouldn’t be smart to delay your contract negotiations after it finally got to that point.
Men seem to forget that playing for your country doh pay de bills…
Well, unless his contract states that he can never play for TT again, I don’t see how possibility of getting injured, would factor in for the club for this particular game. I do agree that from HIS point of view, he’d want to sign before risking injury, etc.
The game wasn’t on a fifa mandated day so clubs aren’t obligated to release players for the fixture.
Unfortunately a lot of our players are not technically sound to be able to play quick possession football.. Guys like Boucaud Joevin Molino can certainly do it but majority are limited. I believe we play to our strengths with the style Hart is using but I had big doubts about us using it vs teams on or below our level and it being effective .. Especially without Kenwyne where he is vital in the direct approach we’ve used.
You would expect st Vincent to be deep and organized so we really have to hope our more technically gifted players play at a high tempo to unlock them and not be too dependent on the direct style because as I said I think it plays into the hands of teams on or below our level.