A brilliant goalkeeping display by veteran Marvin Phillip helped the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team to an unlikely goalless draw in Aichi this morning as the Soca Warriors held off a makeshift Japan team in an international friendly affair.
Head coach Dennis Lawrence spoke about his efforts to turn the Warriors into adept ball handlers and the need for more creativity in the final third. There was little sign of either attribute in Aichi today, as Japan hogged 68 percent possession. But Warriors fans could be heartened by a hard-earned—albeit slightly fortuitous—draw on foreign soil against Asia’s second best ranked team.
“It was a long journey to get here,” said Lawrence, after the match. “The boys did us proud and it was really the type of test we needed going into competition like the Gold Cup. I was really pleased for the boys. I couldn’t name one particular player because I thought they all stood up to be counted.
“Obviously in the end Japan really pushed us back and our ‘keeper had to pull off some incredible saves but that is what he’s there for.”
It was a curious Japan line-up. Head coach Hajime Moriyasu started with only three players from his 2019 Copa America squad that will face Chile next week. Team captain Shinji Kagawa never came off the bench while Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki, who is in the Copa squad, was not even named among the substitutes.
If it was an experimental line-up, it certainly was not a weak one with the likes of veteran left back Yuto Nagatomo and Getafe midfielder Gaku Shibasaki featuring prominently. Shibasaki, who wore the armband, was one of the three Copa America-bound players used from the start alongside defender Takehiro Tomiyasu and attacking midfielder Shoya Nakajima.
The 24-year-old Nakajima, who plays his football in Qatar with Al Duhail, was clearly the game’s outstanding outfield player and he gave the Trinidad and Tobago defence no end of trouble as he drifted in off the left flank to go for goal or pick out teammates.
Japan had eight shots on target in the first half and continued where they left off after the break. But Phillip, the only survivor from Trinidad and Tobago’s 2001 Under-17 World Cup team, was in inspired form and made a mockery of the fact that he has not played competitively in close to seven months.
Phillip’s sharp reflexes and sound handling glossed over Trinidad and Tobago’s failure to keep the ball or work it past Japan’s first line of defence near the half-line. And the twin island republic often looked in danger of being overrun by the attack-minded hosts who lined up in a 3-4-3 formation.
Still, Lawrence could point out that one of the game’s best chances fell to the visitors as Levi Garcia snuck behind the opposing defence in the 55th minute to run onto a diagonal pass by Nathan Lewis, against the run of play, only to be turned around the post for a corner kick by Japan custodian Daniel Schmidt.
Schmidt was called into action in the 21st minute too, when he fended away a long ranged free kick by Alvin Jones.
Those rare forays apart, it was ‘backs to the wall’ stuff by the Warriors who again demonstrated bravery and mobility, as they chased the game throughout but somehow managed to preserve the clean sheet.
“In terms of the game obviously we had to dig deep because we played an exceptional team in Japan,” said Lawrence. “They moved the ball well. They tried to get the ball in wide areas, create the width and get a lot of crosses in which we expected and we had to defend. On the other side I was really, really proud of my boys tonight.”
Phillip told the TTFA Media that his showing in Japan was the result of hard work on the training ground and he credited Lawrence’s guidance.
“We knew the game would have been tough,” said Phillip. “We tried to go out there and stick to the game plan. During the game I had to make a couple saves and I came up big for the team on the night. That’s a goalkeeper’s job. I had been putting in a lot of work since we started the training camp. All of this didn’t come by guess. It came by putting in a lot of work with the goalkeeper coach, Ross Russell.
“[…] We understand what [Lawrence] wants. It’s just for us to go out there and execute and turn the 1-0 losses we’ve had in the last couple games into positive results going into the Gold Cup. I knew I needed to remain solid for the closing minutes of the match because the guys were getting tired also because a few of them having been active for a while.
“We have a few things to work on still and to fine tune but the next week will be important and should be really good for us going into the opener against Panama.”
There were some scares for Lawrence’s medical staff in the second half as Jones and central defender Carlyle Mitchell left the field on the stretcher. Jones’ exit meant Trinidad and Tobago played the final 25 minutes with Club Sando midfielder Akeem Humphrey at right back while W Connection’s Shahdon Winchester, the only forward in the Warriors party, was an unused substitute with the lanky head coach replacing Garcia with veteran flanker Lester Peltier upfront.
Lawrence saw today’s outing as largely positive against a nation ranked 26th in the world by FIFA. At present, Trinidad and Tobago are ranked 93rd. The draw also snapped a three-match losing streak for the Warriors, which dates back to their 1-0 loss to Thailand on 14 October 2018 and also includes narrow defeats away to Iran and Wales.
Trinidad and Tobago travel to Los Angeles next to face Canada on 10 June before they kick off their 2019 Gold Cup campaign against Panama on 18 June. Japan host El Salvador in another friendly on 9 June before they head to Brazil for their opening Copa fixture against Chile on 17 June.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 16.Alvin Jones (14.Akeem Humphrey 67), 12.Carlyle Mitchell (15.Curtis Gonzales 89), 5.Daneil Cyrus (vice captain), 3.Mekeil Williams; 19.Kevan George, 23.Leston Paul; 13.Nathan Lewis (6.Duane Muckette 78), 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain) (4.Neveal Hackshaw 84), 20.Jomal Williams (2.Judah Garcia 89); 11.Levi Garcia (18.Lester Peltier 71).
Unused substitutes: 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 9.Shahdon Winchester.
Coach: Dennis Lawrence
Japan (3-4-3): 23.Daniel Schmidt (GK); 22.Shinnosuke Hatanaka, 3.Gen Shoji, 16.Takehiro Tomiyasu; 19.Hiroki Sakai (2.Sei Muroya 61), 24.Hidemasa Morita (25.Yuki Kobayashi 61), 7.Gaku Shibasaki (captain), 5.Yuto Nagatomo (8.Genki Haraguchi 79); 21.Ritsu Doan (14.Junya Ito 21), 15.Yuya Osako, 11.Shoya Nakajima (9.Takumi Minamino 71).
Unused substitutes: 12.Shuichi Gonda (GK), 28.Keisuke Osako (GK), 4.Ryosuke Yamanaka, 6.Kento Hashimoto, 10.Shinji Kagawa, 13.Kensuke Nagai, 20.Tomoake Makino.
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu