Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana will reacquaint their burgeoning rivalry in strange territory and with new faces in the technical area, as both nations launch their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying bids tomorrow from 7pm at the Estadio Panamericano, Santo Domingo.
On paper, the Soca Warriors are favourites, but it is worth noting that both meetings between the two, in recent times, ended in draws—at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup and in a 2017 friendly.
To put that into context, Guyana captain Sam Cox has 24 senior international caps, yet has never lost to Trinidad and Tobago. It is further indication, if it was needed, that the days when the Warriors considered Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz to be their only regional rival are long gone.
Cox and Guyana coach Márcio Máximo spoke respectfully but without fear, when they discussed tomorrow’s assignment at a virtual press conference today.
“We know what they bring to the table, we know the Trinidad and Tobago team is always physical,” said Cox, who noted—with a smile—that the Guyana camp is ‘aware of some of the problems [T&T] have had in the last few days; and months’. “We know it will be a highly competitive game but we are focusing on what we re going to do. Our strength is going to be our speed and our tactical understanding.
“We have got something up our sleeve.”
Máximo, a former Brazil national youth team coach, suggested it would be wrong to attach too much weight to previous results since both teams are under new tactical management
“For us, the Trinidad and Tobago team is much the same team but they changed the coach and the style of play,” said the Golden Jaguars head coach, who noted that the lack of practice games due to the Covid-19 pandemic limited scouting opportunities. “So different system, different approach, different dynamics… We changed too.
“[…] Our team will be very vertical, very fast… We changed some players to be faster.”
The Guyana contingent expressed their surprise and disappointment that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA)—still nominally the host team, despite the location—did not arrange a pre-match press conference. So they took the initiative to send word out to their supporters.
It is uncertain whether the TTFA will give its own media a chance to pose questions to the Warriors camp, and certainly neither unelected boss Robert Hadad or current head coach Terry Fenwick have been accessible to journalists, despite warm starts.
Fenwick’s last open press briefing, which featured a bizarre altercation with TTFA media manager Shaun Fuentes, remains an international talking point.
But, at the other end of the Caribbean’s chain of islands, the combative English coach is presumably focusing on his core responsibility: to win matches and improve the team’s fortunes, after the largely disastrous reign of his predecessor, Dennis Lawrence.
Fenwick promised to ‘freshen up’ the Trinidad and Tobago squad. For the most part, he has not. Ironically, though, Guyana sport journalists have complained about too many personnel changes and a shortage of experience.
The Jaguars have eight debutantes in their 24-man squad, with 13 players below the age of 24—including four teenagers. Thirty-two-year-old former Morvant Caledonia United goalkeeper Akel Clarke is their only current player over 30 and he is likely to be on the bench tomorrow.
This morning, Cox was quizzed on the merits of the 19-year-old pair of six foot three Watford FC defender Bayli Spencer-Adams and diminutive Bournemouth FC midfielder Nathan Moria-Welsh, who are both likely to start tomorrow.
“Even though he is small in stature, [Moria-Welsh’s] ability to carry the ball and use it under pressure is to be admired,” said Cox. “[…] Bayli [Spencer-Adams] has taken to the team like a duck to water. He brings a certain physicality and composure on the ball. He has got a bright future in the game…”
To bring the knowledge gap into context, Guyana’s 24 players have a combined 209 international appearances. In the Trinidad and Tobago dressing room, midfielder and captain Khaleem Hyland, goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, flanker Joevin Jones and defenders Aubrey David and Sheldon Bateau have 339 caps between the five of them alone.
In the end, though, all that will matter is the result.
The Guyanese media singled out one name in the Trinidad and Tobago camp today: Greece-based attacker Levi Garcia. The jet-heeled 23-year-old has 26 caps for the Warriors, yet he has not scored since his debut—five years ago in St Vincent.
His domestic form for AEK Athens suggests that he has improved his end game and could be decisive, given the chance.
There is no doubting the quality of Warriors forward Ryan Telfer and Jones, but both are in their pre-season and are unlikely to be in optimal condition.
It leaves Fenwick somewhat short on firepower, particular with ace midfielder Kevin Molino absent due to a hamstring strain.
Jones is the highest scorer in the Trinidad and Tobago squad with eight goals from 77 outings, while Plaza has seven from 22 games but his last item was on 3 June 2016 in a friendly against China.
For Guyana, Máximo’s offence should hinge on the attacking trident of wingers Callum Harriott (seven caps, one goal) and Trayon Bobb (38 caps, 10 goals) and Israel-based centre-forward Emery Welshman (19 caps, 9 goals).
With only one team set to advance from the group, any slip-up can be costly.
As the TTFA did not arrange for an exchange with its head coach and team captain before the fixture, the Jaguars controlled the narrative today.
Máximo urged Guyanese supporters to get behind a new dawn for their football programme.
“We are very happy with the commitment we see here,” he said. “Football is an unpredictable game but when you have commitment like that, day by day, it gives you more confidence that a good result is coming.”
Cox insisted the Jaguars will be fearless.
“Nothing is impossible and we’re going to give it a right go,” he said.
The Warriors, presumably, will do their talking on the field.
Trinidad and Tobago Team (tabulated as club; age; caps/goals)
Goalkeepers: Marvin Phillip (Unattached; 36; 80/0), Adrian Foncette (Police FC; 32; 16/0), Nicklas Frenderup (IL Stjørdals-Blink—Norway; 28; 2/0), Denzil Smith (W Connection; 21; 0/0);
Defenders: Neveal Hackshaw (Indy Eleven—US; 25; 15/0), Justin Garcia (Defence Force; 25; 2/0), Leland Archer (Charleston Battery—US; 25; 1/0), Sheldon Bateau (Mechelen—Belgium; 30; 42/3), Radanfah Abu Bakr (Unattached; 34; 37/2), Robert Primus (FC Bengaluru Utd—India; 30; 7/0), Aubrey David (Deportivo Saprissa—Costa Rica; 30; 53/1), Noah Powder (Real Salt Lake—US; 22; 1/0), Joevin Jones (InterMiami CF—USA; 29; 77/8);
Midfielders: Michel Poon-Angeron (Club Banfield—Argentina; 19; 1/0), Duane Muckette (Unattached; 25; 6/0), Andre Boucaud (Maidstone FC—England; 36; 47/2), Daniel Phillips (Watford FC—England; 20; 0/0), Judah Garcia (Neroca FC—India; 20; 4/0), Khaleem Hyland (Al Batin FC—Saudi Arabia; 31; 87/4),
Attackers: Marcus Joseph Jr (Unattached; 29; 20/6), Levi Garcia (AEK Athens FC—Greece; 23; 26/2), Ryan Telfer (Atletico Ottawa—Canada; 26; 7/3), Willis Plaza (TLH Rangers; 33; 29/7), Sean Bonval (Central FC; 24; 1/0), Jabari Mitchell (Police FC; 23; 1/0), Brent Sam (Defence Force; 24; 0/0).
Head coach: Terry Fenwick (England)
Guyana Team (tabulated as club; age; caps/goals)
Goalkeepers: Kai McKenzie-Lyle (Cambridge United—England; 23; 5/1), Akel Clarke (Boyz Walking Company—Suriname; 32; 13/0), Shawn Adonis (Police FC; 18; 0/0);
Defenders: Sam Cox (Hampton & Richmond Borough—England; 30; 24/0), Matthew Briggs (Vejle—Denmark; 30; 10/1), Bayli Spencer-Adams (Watford FC—England; 19; 0/0), Terence Vancooten (Stevenage—England; 23; 11/0), Jeremy Garrett (Guyana Defence Force; 21; 1/0), Nicolai Andrews (Santos; 18; 0/0), Miguel Scarlett (Unattached; 20; 0/0), Kadell Daniel (Kingstonian—England; 26; 11/2), Jeremy Garrett (Guyana Defence Force; 21; 1/0);
Midfielders: Nathan Moria-Welsh (Bournemouth—England; 19; 0/0); Ryan Hackett (Guyana Defence Force; 21; 0/0), Jobe Caesar (Guyana Defence Force; 22; 0/0), Pernell Schultz (Police; 21; 15/3), Daniel Wilson (Police; 27; 33/1);
Forwards: Callum Harriott (Colchester United—England; 27; 7/1), Trayon Bobb (Uitvlugt Warriors; 28; 38/10), Emery Welshman (Hapoel Ra’anana—Israel; 29; 19/9), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Gloucester City—England; 28; 11/1), Omari Glasgow (Fruta Conquerors; 19; 0/0), Nicholas Mc Arthur (Fruta Conquerors; 19; 2/0), Kelsey Benjamin (Guyana Defence Force; 21; 8/1),
Head coach: Márcio Máximo