Willis Plaza ended a barren run for Trinidad and Tobago that stretched for 14 games and 33 months—his last goal came against the United Arab Emirates on 5 September 2013—while Glenroy Samuel gave a glimpse of his potential with some fine second half saves, after replacing goalkeeper Adrian Foncette at the interval.
Otherwise, it was another poor performance from the “Soca Warriors” who were flattered by the final score summary, as they fell 4-2 to China in an exhibition match in Qinhuangdao.
The result ended a three game tour, which included Peru and Uruguay, that saw Trinidad and Tobago concede 11 goals with three in response. But it is hard to know what else could reasonably be expected of coach Stephen Hart with a weakened team on foreign soil against superior and full strength opposition.
Hart told the TTFA Media that the outings were a good test of his team’s ability to handle the rigours of overseas travel and a chance to increase squad depth.
Yet, at best, just five players from this tour would be pushing for a starting place when Trinidad and Tobago host Guatemala in a crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier on September 2.
Plaza and midfielder Jomal Williams, who scored against Uruguay, would be lifted by their items, while striker Shahdon Winchester and Samuel made decent cases for spots on the substitutes’ bench. But it is hard to see where Hart might have learned anything he didn’t know already.
The players on the fringe of first team picks, like Daneil Cyrus, Sean De Silva and Hughtun Hector, were decent in spurts and overran at times. While the outside shots, like Nathan Lewis, Weslie John, Andre Ettienne and Foncette, looked raw and, once more, Marcus Joseph was anonymous.
Otherwise, Trinidad and Tobago slipped 11 places to 64th in the FIFA rankings and hardly gave any of their three host nations a cause to invite them back over.
Just two months ago, Hart took an experimental team with largely local-based players to Grenada and drew 2-2. Fourteen members from that squad were then asked to compete with Peru, Uruguay and China.
No matter what gloss Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams puts on the fixtures, it was, at best, the right teams at the wrong times. At worse, it was a case of ambition trumping common sense.
There was just one minute and 31 seconds on the clock when China went ahead in a stadium that was nowhere near to its capacity of 33,000 patrons.
Attacking midfielder Jiang Ning scored with a free header from the edge of the six yard box off a right side cross.
The pattern continued throughout as China frequently got dangerous crosses in from either flank with Warriors right back Alvin Jones, in particular, struggling to cope with the pace of the match.
China might have already been three goals clear when teenaged Eredivisie striker Zhang Yuning scored on his debut with another header from a wide delivery in the 30th minute. And, despite a tame Williams shot and a threatening Winchester header off a De Silva corner, China remained two goals clear at the break.
Yuning struck again with a stooping header to put the hosts three goals clear, midway through the second half, after Trinidad and Tobago failed to clear another set piece.
But, two minutes later, substitute Plaza gave the Warriors a lifeline with a predatory finish from close range, after stand-in captain Radanfah Abu Bakr headed on another incisive De Silva corner kick.
And, in the 85th minute, the Warriors clawed themselves to within one goal of their opponents, as Plaza converted a downward header after a sweeping move that involved fellow substitutes Cyrus and Hector.
The score did not reflect the action on the field, as Ettienne made two desperate tackles to deny China on one counter attack while Samuel made two superb reflex saves in different passages of play to keep Trinidad and Tobago in the contest.
And the hosts recovered their two goal cushion promptly, as Yuning laid off to substitute Yang Xu on a 88th minute raid and the latter player finished with an unstoppable blast across Samuel and into the top left hand corner from just inside the area.
If Williams had his way, the battered Warriors would now be preparing to face Equatorial Guinea. Thankfully, Hart put his foot down on a fourth outing and his players agreed, when the TTFA president controversially went around his coach’s back to allegedly petition the players directly.
Maybe John-Williams does not know as much about arranging opponents for international teams as he thinks. And it should not be his job anyway.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK) (21.Glenroy Samuel 46), 15.Alvin Jones (5.Daneil Cyrus 72), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr (captain), 3.Yohance Marshall (4.Andre Ettienne 72), 2.Aubrey David; 14.Andre Boucaud, 12.Sean De Silva (20.Makesi Lewis 86); 17.Nathan Lewis, 23.Jomal Williams, 9.Marcus Joseph (11.Willis Plaza 58); 10.Shahdon Winchester (7.Hughtun Hector 72).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 17.Weslie John, 13.Leston Paul, 19.Curtis Gonzales.
Coach: Stephen Hart
(Friday June 3)
China 4 (Jiang Ning 2, Zhang Yuning 30, 64, Yang Xu 88), Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Willis Plaza 66, 85) at Qinhuangdao.