DIRECTV W Connection are now one win away from an eighth CONCACAF Champions League appearance, after they booked a semi-final spot in the CFU Club Championship with a 3-1 victory over Inter Moengo Tapoe at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night.
The pacey and robust Surinamese club, who were without suspended attacker Stefano Rijssel, gave Connection some anxious moments in the first half. But the former regional winners showed their mettle, as goals by Jamal Charles and Malik St Prix and a thunderous Hughtun Hector effort ensured that Connection edged Inter to the all-important top spot in Group One.
The “Savonetta Boys” have been slow out of the box at the Ato Boldon Stadium recently, as they conceded to both Atlantico FC and Club Sportif Moulien inside the first 10 minutes of play.
And that habit of conceding an early goal looked set to continue as Connection defender Daneil Cyrus was struck on his hand inside the area in the eight minute. However, referee Sherwin Johnson waved away the Inter appeals while the lanky defender pleaded his innocence.
But last year’s CFU runners-up were keen to show that they could get out of the blocks sharply too, and took the lead through a clinical finish by Grenadian attacker Jamal Charles in the 10th minute.
It was Connection and St Lucia international left back Kurt Frederick’s fifth assist in just three games. On this occasion, Frederick fought off right-back Jürmen Vallei and bent in a low cross for the lanky attacker to apply a crisp, side-foot finish for his fourth goal of the tourney.
Needing a win to go through to the next round, the Surinamese club was not about to roll over and gift Connection a semi-final spot.
“I think it was a hard game and I always knew it would have been a hard game because (Inter) had nothing to lose really,” said Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier.
Inter ran at their hosts with real purpose inside the first half hour or so, and midfielder Emilio Limon forced Julani Archibald into a timely, low save after piercing through the heart of the Connection midfield and striking a left-footed shot in the 16th minute.
Connection looked equally promising at the other end as Jomal Williams and Surinamese attacker Dimitrie Apai tried to exploit Inter on the counter.
Williams was stopped from point-blank range by Inter goalkeeper Obrendo Huiswoud in the 19th minute, after an Andre Toussaint pass, while Apai headed agonisingly wide in the 26th minute from another Frederick cross.
But there would be no glory for Williams last night, as the 2015 First Citizens Cup and Toyota Classic Cup MVP made way for teammate Shahdon Winchester, after sustaining an injury midway through the first half.
Winchester came close to an immediate impact with a flying header that was saved by Huiswoud, after connecting with an audacious rabona cross by Apai in the 27th minute.
“We could have scored two more goals at least because we created clear-cut goal scoring opportunities in the first half alone,” said Charles-Fevrier.
And while Apai sparkled at one end, his compatriot Romeo Kastiel—who bagged a hat-trick against Club Sportif last Wednesday—had his hands filled with Connection centre-back Triston Hodge.
The duo had a running battle in the first half, and Kastiel must have been sick at the sight of Hodge by the time the teams made their way through the tunnel at the interval.
At the start of the second half, Connection’s attackers pressed and hurried the Inter backline as they clamped down on their visitors’ willingness to pass the ball out of the defensive third.
“Yeah, I thought we needed a little more control and we needed to be a little more patient and look for the best option in the offensive third,” said Charles-Fevrier. “I thought in the first half in the offensive third, sometimes our decision making was not the correct one.
“I tried to encourage them to look for the best option. The score is not important really.”
Connection’s pressing totally unsettled the Inter team as they struggled to get their more skilful players on the ball in threatening areas of the pitch.
Apai was still finding himself in some decent positions though, and the tiny Connection attacker shot agonisingly wide in the 63rd minute after working a neat one-two with Charles on the edge of the box.
The increasingly uninspired Inter were granted a lifeline in the 78th minute as opposing skipper Alvin Jones was penalised when the ball struck his hand after he made a key interception in the box.
“They got a penalty, which was accidental to me really,” said Charles-Fevrier.
Inter skipper Patrick Jimmy failed to make it count, as his spot kick was stopped by a flying Archibald.
And any lingering hopes of an Inter comeback were dashed in the 81st minute, as Connection substitute Malik St Prix scored from off the bench for the second time in three days. The St Lucian striker was only on the field a matter of seconds before poking into the top corner to double Connection’s advantage.
“I believe that we are a more experienced team than them and I think that’s why we were able to contain them and win the game,” Charles-Fevrier said.
The final nail was knocked into the Inter coffin on the 90 minute mark as playmaker Hughtun Hector, who recently returned from a long-term injury layoff, rifled a 30-yard screamer into the top corner after being given time and space to work out all the shooting angles available to him.
And boy did he pick the right one!
Inter did manage a consolation though, as substitute Kareem Kwasie neatly tucked home in stoppage time after a defensive blunder by Connection.
“Today’s game was about qualifying for the next round, simple as that,” said Charles-Fevrier. “All in all, I think we definitely showed that we were the best team out of the four teams and we deserve to be going to the next round.”
In the earlier match, Atlantico FC scored three goals within a 10-minute second half burst to thump nine-man Club Sportif 4-0. The Dominican Republic club took advantage of their opponents’ indiscipline as they played some stylish football en route to their emphatic consolation victory.
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 16.Alvin Jones (captain), 25.Daneil Cyrus, 5.Triston Hodge, 2.Kurt Frederick; 13.Hughtun Hector, 3.Gerard Williams; 12.Dimitrie Apai, 14.Andre Toussaint (43.Malik St Prix 80), 10.Jomal Williams (9.Shahdon Winchester 24); 20.Jamal Charles (26.Paolo De La Guardia 67).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Terrence Lewis (GK); 4.Maurice Ford, 8.Briel Thomas, 34.Jabari Mitchell, 35.Keston Julien, 46.Anfernee Frederick.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Inter Moengo Tapoe (4-2-3-1): 30.Obrendo Huiswoud (GK); 4.Jürmen Vallei, 69.Joel Baja, 5.Patrick Jimmy (captain), 99.Naldo Kwasie; 8.Gregory Pokie, 80.Romano Stekkel (11.Kareem Kwasie 64); 9.Giovanny Waal, 21.Emilio Limon, 10.Ives Vlijter (15.Claudio Pinas 71); 20.Romeo Kastiel (2.Anduelo Amoeferie 75).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Rudolf Daniel (GK), 7.Izaac Carvalho, 17.Saviero Gazon.
Coach: Jeroe Herson
Referee: Sherwin Johnson (Guyana)
Man of the Match: Andre Toussaint (W Connection)
CFU Club Championship Scores
Club Sportif Moulien 0, Atlantico FC 4 (Leinner Perez Chirinos 17, 50, Cristian Casseres 56, Wuiswell Fernandez Isea 60), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 3 (Jamal Charles 10, Malik St Prix 81, Hughton Hector 90), Inter Moengo Tapoe 1 (Kareem Kwasie 90+3), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Upcoming Pro League fixtures
(Tuesday March 1)
St Ann’s Rangers v Defence Force, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Club Sando v North East Stars, 8 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic v Central FC, 6 pm, Mahaica Oval;
(Wednesday March 2)
Morvant Caledonia Utd v San Juan Jabloteh, 4 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
W Connection v Police FC, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.