Trinidad and Tobago’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign is well and truly over now.
The Soca Warriors lost their sixth successive match last night as they fell 2-0 to Panama in Panama City; and it proved to be the final nail in their coffin, as it is now impossible for coach Dennis Lawrence’s troops to advance to Russia, despite having two qualifiers to spare against Mexico and the United States.
Trinidad and Tobago had a perfect World Cup qualifying record against Panama before last night with five wins from as many outings. But Lawrence and his troops would have been under no illusions as to the size of the task.
The rookie six foot seven coach rang in the changes with six alterations to his starting team—only defender Sheldon Bateau and midfielders Kevan George, Joevin Jones and Kevin Molino kept their places from Friday’s 2-1 home defeat to Honduras—while he swapped their 4-1-4-1 formation for 5-4-1.
He would have been reasonably encouraged too after the first half hour, as the Warriors created two half-chances for striker Willis Plaza—neither of which ended with a shot on target—and won frequent free kicks down either flank by Kevin Molino and Joevin Jones.
Lawrence might have expected to trouble Panama from set pieces with Sheldon Bateau, Carlyle Mitchell, Radanfah Abu Bakr and Mekeil Williams all in the starting line-up and capable in the air. But, instead, the Warriors repeatedly failed to deliver testing crosses into the box, with Jones particularly culpable.
Ironically, Panama capitalised directly from a Trinidad and Tobago set piece in the 39th minute as Gabriel Torres sprinted half the length of the pitch—easily outfoxing Curtis Gonzales and Kevan George on the way—before finishing between the legs of goalkeeper Marvin Phillip.
Winger Nathan Lewis, who gave a decent showing at right wing-back, tested opposing goalkeeper José Calderón with a low shot at his near post in the 49th minute.
But the mood darkened considerably for the Warriors when Carlyle Mitchell inadvertently headed past his own goalkeeper in the 57th minute off a cross from Panama winger Alberto Quintero. Panama 2, T&T 0.
The Warriors ought to have halved the deficit in the 70th minute when s Calderón inexplicably spilled a shot by Trinidad and Tobago substitute Khaleem Hyland from outside the six-yard box.
The ball dropped fortuitously for Plaza in the six-yard box and the India-based forward, who had followed up smartly to get the chance in the first place, clipped his first-time effort over the fallen goalkeeper, only to watch it rap the bar before going over.
After that, there was never going to be a way back. Bateau kept Panama at bay in the 83rd minute with a superb last-gasp challenge on opposing midfielder Édgar Yoel Bárcenas from a counter-attack.
But, seconds later, Panama substitute Abdiel Arroyo cut in off the left flank and beat Phillip with a right-footed strike that deflected off Mitchell.
The emphatic 3-0 scoreline almost doubled Panama’s goal tally in the Hex in a single night. The Central American nation had scored only four goals in their seven previous competitive games combined.
The result, coupled with the United States’ 1-1 draw away to Honduras, pushed Panama into third spot and gave them a real chance of joining Mexico and Costa Rica as automatic qualifiers for the Russia World Cup. It would be their first appearance at a senior FIFA tournament.
For Trinidad and Tobago, the next two qualifiers will be joyless affairs, the first away to Mexico on 6 October and the last at home to the United States on 10 October.
The Warriors can conceivably play the role of spoilers as, should they hold the US to a draw, they can force the North American nation to settle for a FIFA Play-off spot or even miss out on the showpiece 2018 tournament altogether.
But there is now no way for the Trinidad and Tobago Warriors to achieve their initial goal and get to Russia themselves.
Trinidad and Tobago (5-4-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 16.Nathan Lewis, 4.Sheldon Bateau (captain), 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17.Mekeil Williams; 10.Kevin Molino, 19.Kevan George (8.Khaleem Hyland 50), 15.Curtis Gonzales, 3.Joevin Jones (7.Cordell Cato 62); 9.Willis Plaza (11.Tyrone Charles 76).
Unused substitutes: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 22.Adrian Foncette (GK), 2.Aubrey David, 5.Daneil Cyrus, 13.Kevon Villaroel, 18.Triston Hodge, 20.Jamille Boatswain, 23.Leston Paul.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Panama (4-2-3-1): 12.José Calderón (GK); 2.Michael Murillo, 4.Fidel Escobar, 5.Román Torres (captain) (23.Felipe Baloy 80), 17.Luis Ovalle; 6.Gabriel Gómez (22.Abdiel Arroyo 72), 20.Anibal Godoy; 19.Alberto Quintero (11.Armando Cooper 82), 9.Gabriel Torres, 8.Édgar Yoel Bárcenas; 7.Blas Pérez.
Unused substitutes: 1.Alex Rodriguez (GK), 3.Roberto Chen, 10.Ricardo Buitrago, 13.Adolfo Machado, 15.Eric Davis, 16.Jose Gonzales, 18.Luis Tejada, 21.Roberto Nurse.
Coach: Hernán Gómez
Referee: Henry Bejarano (Costa Rica)
2018 World Cup qualifying results
(Tuesday 5 September)
Honduras 1 (Romell Quito 28), USA 1 (Bobby Wood 85) in San Pedro Sula;
*—Red card: Henry Figueroa (Hon)
Panama 3 (Gabriel Torres 39, Carlyle Mitchell OG 57, Abdiel Arroyo 84), Trinidad and Tobago 0 in Panama City;
Costa Rica 1 (Marco Ureña 83), Mexico 1 (Christian Gamboa OG 42) in San José;
Costa Rica 8-4-3-1-12-5-15
United States 8-2-3-3-12-11-9