The Trinidad and Tobago Senior National Team’s CONCACAF Hex campaign started with a home defeat tonight as the Soca Warriors failed to make home advantage count with a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
In the Nacion’s match preview, the Central America nation suggested that Trinidad and Tobago was a second home for “Los Ticos.” And although the visitors didn’t exactly traipse around in their bathroom slippers, they certainly knew where all the furniture was in tonight’s Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier.
It was a classic display of game management from the tourists. True, Warriors winger Joevin Jones was a thorn in their sides. But celebrated Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas had just one save to make over 90 minutes, after a low speculative effort from Trinidad and Tobago defender Carlyle Mitchell in the 68th minute.
Jan-Michael Williams was not especially busy in goal for the hosts either. But Costa Rica bided their time well.
After a first half with little to report save for a Kendall Waston header—which was batted away by Williams—Costa Rica waited until the second half to switch gears.
In the 57th minute, Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez sent on enigmatic striker Joel Campbell to replace Marcos Ureña and, within seven minutes, Los Ticos were ahead.
Campbell exchanged passes with right full back Christian Gamboa and midfielder Celso Borges before Borges slid a ball down the right flank. And Gamboa got around the back of Warriors left back Aubrey David before delivering a precise low cross at the far post, which found Christian Bolanos so criminally unmarked by opposing defender Daneil Cyrus that the MLS player was able to take a touch before tapping into an empty net.
“We tried to take advantage of [Trinidad and Tobago] being tired in the second half,” said Ramirez, whose team have scored all six of their 2018 World Cup qualifying away goals after the interval. “And Campbell was introduced to help [our] combination play.”
Warriors coach Stephen Hart’s response was to immediately replace the ineffective Jomal Williams with deep-lying ball handler, Andre Boucaud, and push the spiky Khaleem Hyland further upfield. Jomal stuck close to captain Kenwyne Jones throughout, presumably in anticipation of flick ons that he could chase.
But Kenwyne barely got any competent aerial service—and, in any case, Costa Rica’s six foot five defender Kendall Waston was certainly not intimidated by the height of the Warriors talisman—while Jomal rarely gave his midfielders a passing option on the ground.
Hyland as a ‘number 10’ was hardly the sort of change that would strike fear into the visitors.
There were cheers when Netherlands-based teenaged starlet, Levi Garcia, was finally introduced in place of the industrious Cordell Cato in the 74th minute. And the loudest cheer of the match was reserved for the final change, as Willis Plaza replaced Kenwyne upfront.
Yet, in the end, Boucaud was the only substitute to make an impact. Composed and cocky in possession, his confidence was contagious. And, for the closing 10 minutes, Trinidad and Tobago finally looked capable of passing the ball through the midfield rather than a one-dimensional attacking unit, completely reliant on Joevin’s pace and trickery.
But the game belonged to Costa Rica’s super sub.
A minute and a half into second half stoppage time, Campbell flicked the ball to Bolanos into space and the tricky attacker stepped inside Boucaud and teed up left wing back Ronald Matarrita for a close ranged finish.
Campbell, incidentally, is yet to score after seven games in this World Cup qualifying campaign. But there was no doubting his contribution.
“[The loss is] disappointing [because] I thought we were in control for very long periods,” said Hart. “The second goal I didn’t really care about because we were trying to get back into the game.”
Matarrita’s strike sparked a rush to the exits for the locals while the Costa Rica supporters went into a flag waving frenzy.
“Ole, ole, ole, ole… Ticos! Ticos!”
The Costa Rican fans were on the receiving end of some thumbs up and slaps on the back at the final whistle. And, for the most part, their players again enjoyed the hospitality of the two island republic.
Trinidad and Tobago have never defeated Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying competition while the last time the Warriors managed a draw—some 11 years ago—Patrick Manning was still prime minister.
Tonight, 13,345 spectators turned out to see the action, which was near 7,000 less than the number who watched the Warriors play Guatemala here in the earlier round—two months ago.
It is uncertain whether the price hike, the behaviour and/or suspension of playmaker Kevin Molino or the team’s dip in form was the main factor in the diminished turnout. Or perhaps it was the inhumane treatment meted out to fans as they tried to get into the ground to see the Warriors play Guatemala.
Thankfully, the fans had a more straightforward time in getting to their seats tonight while the supporters who did show up were certainly appreciative of their team’s efforts.
The Warriors leave tomorrow evening for what should be a dogfight in San Pedro Sula against Honduras. Honduras lost at 1-0 at home to Panama tonight and cannot afford a second straight defeat in their own backyard.
Hart might at least feel reassured by his team’s ability to generally keep up with their illustrious guests, who were quarterfinalists at the 2014 World Cup. Hopefully, they have something left in the tank for Tuesday’s away fixture.
Boat parties, one would hope, are out.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-3-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 5.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 2.Aubrey David; 19.Kevan George; 7.Cordell Cato (16.Levi Garcia 74), 8.Khaleem Hyland, 3.Joevin Jones; 23.Jomal Williams (14.Andre Boucaud 66), 9.Kenwyne Jones (captain) (13.Willis Plaza 78).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 10.Marcus Joseph, 11.Ataulla Guerra, 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 17.Jelani Peters, 18.Yohance Marshall, 20.Trevin Caesar.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Costa Rica (3-4-3): 1.Keylor Navas (GK); 19.Kendall Waston, 2.Johnny Acosta, 15.Francisco Calvo (4.Michael Umaña 42); 16.Christian Gamboa, 5.Celso Borges, 14.Randall Azofeifa, 22.Ronald Matarrita; 10.Bryan Ruiz (captain) (11.Johan Venegas 77), 21.Marcos Ureña (12.Joel Campbell 57), 7.Christian Bolanos.
Unused substitutes: 18.Patrick Pemberton (GK), 23.Leonel Moreira (GK), 3.Jose Salvatierra, 6.Pablo Salazar, 8.Bryan Oviedo, 9.Ariel Rodriguez, 13.Rodney Wallace, 17.Yeltsin Tejeda, 20.Davis Guzman.
Coach: Oscar Ramirez
Referee: Oscar Moncada (Honduras)
Man of the Match: Christian Bolanos (Costa Rica)
Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier
Trinidad and Tobago 0, Costa Rica 2 (Christian Bolanos 64, Ronald Matarrita 90) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Honduras 0, Panama 1 (Fidel Escobar 22) at Estadio Olimpico, San Pedro Sula;
United States 1 (Bobby Wood 49), Mexico 2 (Miguel Layun 20, Rafael Marquez 89) at Columbus.