Two Suriname goals in the last five minutes of play provided a glimmer of hope to the host nation last night, as Haiti won 4-2 to keep Trinidad and Tobago’s 2017 Gold Cup chances alive. Crucially, the Haitian triumph was not by too wide a margin to make it unfeasible for the Soca Warriors to leapfrog them.
Haiti seemed to be cruising towards the finish line with a four goal lead when Dimitrie Apai, W Connection’s lively attacker, spanked home a fine finish in the 85th minute. And, five minutes later, some unconvincing glove work by Haitian custodian Guerry Romondt presented a simple chance for Surinamese midfielder Sergino Eduard to halve the deficit.
The cheers from the home crowd told the story. The two goals were not enough for Suriname to secure the sole group spot available for the final Gold Cup playoff round. But it opened the door for Trinidad and Tobago.
There were raised eyebrows and optimistic glances exchanged by the Warriors technical staff too at the manner of Suriname’s second item.
Trinidad and Tobago head coach Tom Saintfiet knows Haiti’s weaknesses now. As always, exploiting them will be another matter.
The Haitian players are a talented bunch. But, like the Warriors, they are a team at the start of a cycle and plagued by disruptions.
While the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) opted for an obscure Belgian, Saintfiet, to rescue a faltering 2018 World Cup campaign, Haiti chose a local coach—Josaphat Jean Claude—to try to get them to the Gold Cup. It is the first time in a decade that a Haitian has held the title of his nation’s senior team head coach.
Claude, whose appointment was listed as interim, is Haiti’s third coach in roughly 13 months and last night was his first taste of international football. His first lesson was the difficulty in closing down a game, as he pulled his three best attacking players off the field in the last 15 minutes, only to lose momentum and a sizeable goal advantage.
Or maybe that was the second lesson. The first would be the challenge of navigating Caribbean administration.
Four of Claude’s initial squad failed to show up—attacker Duckens Nazon is expected to join the squad in time for Sunday’s match—and he was forced to hastily summon reinforcements.
Romondt, who made just his second cap last night at the age of 31, was one such late call-up.
Saintfiet, of course, would know a thing or two about administrative upheavals.
The new Trinidad and Tobago coach, rightly or wrongly, certainly played his role in the raft of high profile absentees from the Warriors line-up when they fell 2-1 to Suriname in extra time on Wednesday.
However, the fact that the host team had just 17 players available against Suriname was surely inexcusable.
Caribbean Football Union (CFU) official Dale Spencer said he was not authorised to say why Trinidad and Tobago did not have a full bench on Wednesday. However, Wired868 was reliably informed that attacker Trevin Caeser, who was a standby against Suriname, was incorrectly listed as injured for that match due to a careless tick of the wrong box—an hour before kick off.
So, when Cornell Glen tweaked his hamstring in the pre-match warm up, Saintfiet could not add the pacy Caesar to his 18-man squad since, according to CFU rules, a player listed as injured cannot be re-inserted into the team.
Saintfiet was tightlipped aout the faux pas.
“You would have to ask the person who signed the form,” said Saintfiet.
Team manager Azaad Khan signed the team list but he could not be reached for comment.
Claude and Haiti seemed to make light of their own issues though. Only four Haitians had more than six caps last night, as the French-speaking islanders used a youthful team that barely resembled the squad that edged Trinidad and Tobago to the Copa America Centenario last year.
But, even so, Haiti were still quite decent. Certainly too much for Suriname.
Playmaker Charles Hérold Jr opened the scoring with a classy finish in the 25th minute and was the pick of an attack-minded Haitian team, which played with overlapping full backs and three attacking midfielders who constantly swapped positions behind lone striker, Jonel Désiré.
Désiré would be expected to make way for Nazon on Sunday. But he certainly staked a claim for himself with a solid, industrious showing and a well taken goal in the 48th minute—albeit after a shocking back pass from Suriname right back Miquel Darson.
Central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste also scored for Haiti while a dangerous cross from left back Christian Alex forced an own goal by opposing defender Gillermo Faerber in the 79th minute.
Still, Haiti’s open attacking style looked a touch naive at times while their midfield bouncer, Sébastien Thuriere, lacks mobility and Romondt did not convince.
Saintfiet’s choice to sit off of Suriname looked a curious decision—and Haiti highlighted that by squeezing the Dutch-speaking nation in their own half last night. But he might hope for more luck on Sunday, as Haiti do attack with more numbers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a young team with an inexperienced coach, Haiti switched off last night to their detriment.
Apai charged through the centre and slapped a lovely finish past Romondt in the 85th minute. And the Haiti goalkeeper was his own worse enemy in the 90th minute, as he spilled a cross from enterprising Surinamese substitute Ivanildo Rozenblad and presented a simple tap in for Eduard.
Couva patrons knew what that goal meant for the Warriors and they roared in approval.
Trinidad and Tobago need to defeat Haiti by a two goal margin to top the group now. Interestingly, since there can be no drawn matches, the Warriors can finish regulation time with a tie and still qualify by scoring two more than their opponents in extra time.
But Saintfiet’s troops will need to play considerable better than they did on Wednesday to have any chance. And one suspects that Haiti, who were already in cruise control by the 50th minute last night, do have another gear.
It should be a searching test of the Warriors’ progress since the change at the helm. And, ironically, it comes from a Haitian who was appointed head coach barely more than a week ago.
Suriname (4-3-1-2): 1.Claidel Kohinor (GK); 15.Miquel Darson, 4.Gilberto Eind (captain), 3.Gillermo Faerber, 5.Guno Kwasie; 7.Mitchell Kisoor (9.Gillian Maatrijk 53), 14.Sergino Eduard, 8.Bruce Diporedjo (18.Galgyto Talea 76); 12.Sorencio Juliaans; 10.Roxey Fer (16.Ivanildo Rozenblad 53), 11.Dimitrie Apai.
Unused substitutes: 22.Sersinio Profijt (GK), 2.Saverio Adenie, 6.Andwele Baja, 19.Silvion Sedney.
Coach: Robert Godeken
Haiti (4-2-3-1): 1.Guerry Romondt (GK); 21.Samuel Pompée, 16.Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 3.Mechack Jérôme (captain), 22.Christian Alex; 15.Sébastien Thuriere, 17.Wilguens Aristide; 11.Derrick Etienne (5.Romilaire Ambroise 76), 9.Kervens Belfort (19.Listner Pierre-Louis 83), 10.Charles Hérold Jr (8.Roberto Louima 88); 18.Jonel Désiré.
Unused substitutes: 23.Valendi Odelus (GK), 2.Paulson Pierre, 4.Handy Delice, 6.Waldo Vernet.
Coach: Josaphat Jean Claude