Mission accomplished. If you videotaped tonight’s Russia 2018 World Cup, then erase it.
It was a scrappy, nervy affair with few flashes of genuine quality. But, at the final whistle, the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team did just enough to seal their place in the CONCACAF hex courtesy of a 2-2 draw against Guatemala at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
The Soca Warriors still lead Group C albeit by a solitary point over the United States, who trounced St Vincent and the Grenadines 6-0 in Kingstown.
Trinidad and Tobago travel to Jacksonville, Florida this weekend in anticipation of their clash with the United States. A win or draw for the two island republic will allow the Warriors to advance as group winners. But there is no noticeable advantage either way in the fixtures for the hex.
Guatemala can still advance if they rout St Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday once the Warriors manage a similar hefty win over the US. And who knows how the Warriors will perform now that the pressure has been lifted.
But, tonight, their performance was largely forgettable.
Right back Daneil Cyrus produced one of his best offensive displays in a red shirt while Khaleem Hyland was his usual tigerish self in central midfield. However, Joevin Jones, who scored both of Trinidad and Tobago’s games, rotated between sublime and sloppy for much of the 90 minutes and he was not alone.
But Guatemala, who scored twice through captain Carlos Ruiz, could not do enough to snatch the three points and they ended the contest with 10 players after right back Christian Jimenez hauled back Jones for a straight red card in the 83rd minute.
“It was a bittersweet moment,” said Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart. “I thought there were a lot of nerves and being 2-1 up, you would expect a team at international level to kill off the game.
“We lacked urgency and impetus.”
The Warriors captain, Kenwyne Jones, shared some of his coach’s concern.
“I think coming up to the occasion knowing that we needed a point maybe played a part in our minds that we needed to do just enough,” said Jones (K). “It’s not something that we should make a habit of really.”
There were over 20,000 supporters at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and tens of thousands more who followed the affair on the television or internet who would certainly agree.
First, to put things into context, the Warriors are on top of Group C with an unprecedented opportunity to advance to the hex without a single World Cup qualifying defeat.
The boys in red, black and white are the only Caribbean representatives left in the Russia World Cup race, after Jamaica’s “Reggae Boyz” were eliminated tonight and joined Haiti and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the departure lounge.
And surely Guatemala would feel a hell of a lot worse about tonight’s result, which preserved Trinidad and Tobago’s unbeaten home record against the Central American nation and meant the Warriors have not lost a competitive match to the team in sky blue and white since 26 February 2005.
At times tonight, the Warriors looked capable or ripping to shreds a Guatemalan outfit that beat United States 2-0 in Guatemala City, just six months ago.
The host nation should have gone ahead within the opening 27 seconds, as Cyrus delivered an early telling cross on the overlap which Jones (K) flicked on to Cordell Cato, only for the winger to sky his effort with his weaker left foot.
Cato was unplayable, as was Jones (J) on the other flank, as the one-paced Central America had no answer for the Warriors’ athleticism.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Rio 2016 Olympic athletes were guests of honour in the covered stands—along with the likes of 2006 World Cup captain Dwight Yorke and France’s 1998 World Cup winner Patrick Vieira—and, in that aspect at least, there was plenty to puff out the chest at.
Yet, it was Guatemala who got the first shot on target, as Warriors goalkeeper had to fend away a Jean Marquez free kick in the 15th minute. And, by the midway point, the visitors were the more purposeful team as Trinidad and Tobago lost the plot.
Hart spun around in disgust when Jones (J) lost possession midway in his own half, as he unsuccessfully tried to play the ball between Jimenez’s legs in the 19th minute. While Phillip had to tip over a Marco Papa rocket in the 26th minute and defender Sheldon Bateau had no margin of error when he stripped Ruiz in his own penalty area in the 35th minute.
Seconds later, Guatemala went ahead as an overlapping Jimenez was granted enough space down their right flank to arrow a delicious low cross towards the back post. Phillip appeared to slip on the slick surface and, in a flash, Ruiz extended his record tally for his country to 61 goals from 129 appearances.
It was the first goal that Trinidad and Tobago conceded at home for their World Cup campaign so far. But, 10 minutes later, Jones (J) responded to settle the nerves on the verge of halftime, as he neatly prodded a cross from his former W Connection teammate, Cyrus, through the legs of opposing goalkeeper Paula Motta.
It should have been the incentive for the Warriors to recover their poise. Instead, the hosts seemed to see less and less of the ball as Guatemala took over the midfield area after the break.
Yet, paradoxically, Hart’s men are usually at their most dangerous in such circumstances, as they active their counter attack.
So, now Guatemala had the ball but Trinidad and Tobago were creating the scoring opportunities and Jones (K) had already passed up two presentable opportunities before his namesake, Joevin, put the hosts ahead for the first time tonight.
The big Warriors captain played his part as he won his aerial battle—he was unmatched in the air for most of the night—before relaying the ball to Kevin Molino who passed it on to Joevin in the 65th minute.
There was still a lot of work to be done here. Joevin charged to go past Jimenez but, with insufficient space to knock it around him, he came to an abrupt stop on the full back in the opposing penalty area.
Guatemala defender Hamilton Lopez realised the Seattle Sounders flanker was about to do something different. But it was too late. From a sharp angle down the left side of the area, Joevin improvised with an outside of left foot stab into the far corner that Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge would be proud of.
It was only Joevin’s fifth international goal but all five were scored in the last 14 months. The Warriors will need his streak to continue in the hex.
Hart tried to apply the padlock as midfield destroyer Kevan George replaced the more elegant Andre Boucaud, who was booked in the first half, while the subdued Molino gave way for another speed demon in Netherlands-based winger Levi Garcia.
Hart explained after that he had hoped to pin back Guatemala with fresh attacking legs and it almost paid immediate dividends.
Garcia beat Jimenez to the ball in the 70th minute and hared into the opposing area, only to be denied by Motta’s legs at the near post with the Joneses both screaming for the ball to his right.
The Warriors had another chance to kill off the match, three minutes later, as Bateau angled an incise cross towards Kenwyne only for the skipper to again miss the target at full stretch.
Then, in the 83rd minute, more disaster for Guatemala, as Jimenez had finally had enough of chasing after Joevin and dragged back the winger as he raced on to a clever threaded Hyland pass on the break. Panamanian referee John Patti had no option but to flash the red card.
Yet, with just 10 players, Guatemala conjured up an unlikely equaliser.
Phillip, who kept the Warriors level with a superb double save midway through the half from Papa and Gerson Tinoco, fended another Papa effort straight to Ruiz at just about six yards out. And the snarling Guatemalan captain does not miss those.
In stoppage time, with Guatemala needing a single goal to deflate the Warriors’ World Cup ambitions, Joevin miscued a simple pass towards Cato and presented a counter attacking opportunity to their desperate visitors.
Hart was furious.
But the final whistle meant Guatemala were virtually out—they need Trinidad and Tobago to defeat the US on Tuesday while they beat St Vincent and somehow erase a 12-goal advantage by the “Yanks” at the same time—while the Warriors can begin preparation for the hex.
It could have been better. But it could easily have been much worse too.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Russian dreams will continue.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 5.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 17.Mekeil Williams; 14.Andre Boucaud (19.Kevan George 66), 8.Khaleem Hyland, 13.Cordell Cato, 10.Kevin Molino (16.Levi Garcia 68), 3.Joevin Jones, 9.Kenwyne Jones (captain) (20.Trevin Caesar 85).
Unused substitutes: 21.Adrian Foncette (GK), 22.Gregory Ranjitsingh (GK), 2.Aubrey David, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 7.Hughtun Hector, 11.Shahdon Winchester, 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 18.Yohance Marshall, 23.Jomal Williams.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Guatemala (4-4-2): 12.Paula Motta (GK); 3.Christian Jimenez, 4.Hamilton Lopez, 5.Jefrey Payeras, 14.Rafael Morales (11.Victor Matta 81); 22.Rodrigo Saravia, 8.Jean Marquez, 16.Marco Papa, 10.Jose Contreras (19.Jose Rosales 80), 20.Carlos Ruiz (captain), 9.Gerson Tinoco (18.Mario Castellanos 76)
Unused substitutes: 1.Ricardo Jerez (GK), 21.Jose Garcia (GK), 2.Wilson Lalin, 6.Carlos Mejia, 7.Jairo Arreola, 13.Eddy Aragon, 15.Luis Cardona, 17.Edi Guerra, 23.Jorge Aparicio.
Coach: Walter Claveri
Referee: John Pitti (Panama)
Man of the Match: Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago)
Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers
(2 September 2016)
Trinidad and Tobago 2 (Joevin Jones 45, 62), Guatemala 2 (Carlos Ruiz 35, 85) at Port of Spain;
St Vincent and the Grenadines 0, USA 6 (Bobby Wood 28, Matt Besler 32, Jozy Altidore 43 pen, Christian Pulisic 71, 90+2, Sacha Kljestan 78) at Kingstown.