St Kitts and Nevis were the best outfit in Group F of the preliminary Concacaf World Cup qualifying group but Trinidad and Tobago were the better team today, as the Soca Warriors closed off their Qatar 2022 campaign with a 2-0 win over the ‘Sugar Boyz’ at the Félix Sánchez Olympic Stadium in Santo Domingo.
A goal in each half by playmaker Duane Muckette and captain Khaleem Hyland did the trick for the Warriors, with flanker Levi Garcia also striking the bar—in a dominant showing by Trinidad and Tobago.
The result meant the Soca Warriors finished the round undefeated and with only a solitary goal conceded after 360 minutes of football. But draws against Puerto Rico and The Bahamas undid the dreams of the twin island republic, who still ended a point shy of St Kitts and Nevis.
It would be fair to say that the Boyz were not at full throttle. Head coach Leonardo Neiva, an Argentine native, started the match without team captain and goalkeeper Julani Archibald and SKN top scorer Keithroy Freeman, who struck four times in their previous three games.
St Kitts and Nevis host El Salvador on Saturday at Warner Park, Basseterre in their first second fixture and Neiva would be far more interested in a result then than he was this evening.
But the Warriors deserved the three points on the day and at least ended a largely forgettable campaign on a high note.
Yesterday, six national players were still without boots to train due to a baggage mix-up that owed much to the farcical travel arrangements made by the Robert Hadad-led normalisation committee.
By the time the Warriors took the field, though, Muckette somehow found himself with a goalscorer’s boot.
In his ninth senior international appearance, the former FC Santa Rosa maestro got his maiden goal with a fine left footed strike into the corner, after Hyland skilfully evaded opposing holding midfielder Theo Wharton to create the shooting opportunity.
The game was 36 minutes old by then and, if anything, the only question was why the opening goal took that long.
There were only seconds on the clock when Neveal Hackshaw—who was pushed from his usual defensive role to central midfield—was whistled for a kick on St Kitts and Nevis star Romaine Sawyers, who campaigned in the England Premier League last season with West Brom.
In the end, Sawyers was largely a non-entity though. Strong and analytical on the ball, he is a fine player within a fluent team but lacks the dynamism to trouble opponents on his own.
Levi Garcia on the other hand…
St Kitts and Nevis left back Ordell Flemming was based in Trinidad up until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, as a Morvant Caledonia United player. And he might have imagined that he knew what facing Trinidad and Tobago talent felt like.
He does now. Garcia left him contorted in more awkward shapes than a balloon animal.
Little wonder then that debutante Jesse Williams got through the match so comfortably at right back. With Garcia for company on that flank, it would have been like touring Sea Lots on the coattails of ‘Godfather Burkie’.
Williams was one of four changes to the team that drew goalless against The Bahamas, as Joevin Jones and Andre Fortune II dropped to the substitutes’ bench while, curiously, Keston Julien and Shannon Gomez found themselves without a spot even there.
The Boys started the second half with a bit more bustle but the fact that Neiva never sent for Freeman probably spoke to their real priorities in the fixture.
Trinidad and Tobago head coach Terry Fenwick was certainly not half-arsing it. In the 65th minute, as Dominican referee Randy Encarnación generously offered a penalty kick to the team in red, Fenwick ran on the field, screaming that substitute Joevin Jones was not to take it!
Jones bizarrely missed a penalty plus two rebounds in Trinidad and Tobago’s opening qualifier against Guyana. Fenwick, it turns out, is not the forgiving sort. But it was a wasted excursion for the combustible Englishman, as Encarnación correctly reversed his decision—after being informed that there was no handball from SKN defender Lois Maynard.
The Warriors should have already been two goals clear, as Jones relayed a loose ball to Garcia, via Hyland, only for the Greek-based attacker to refuse the gift as his rising shot struck the bar.
In his five years as a senior international footballer, Garcia has scored only once since his debut double against St Vincent and the Grenadines on 25 March 2016. Three goals from 30 caps. It is not a return that does justice to his terrific ability.
Garcia might not have the beating of goalkeepers, but he is a right nightmare for defenders. And, in the 75th minute, he streaked past opposing defender Andre Burley and pulled the ball back for Hyland to get Trinidad and Tobago’s second.
Hyland’s own strike tally stands at just five goals from 91 international outings, but he does love the big occasion. Three of his goals came in World Cup qualifying matches, which means he has scored as many times in this competition as Leonson Lewis, Cornell Glen, Jerren Nixon, and Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings.
Only, in Hyland’s case, his three goals spanned 12 years, with his first against Honduras in 2009, and his second against Guatemala in 2015, before his strike this evening.
Another fun fact: all three of Garcia’s goals have been in World Cup qualifiers too, which puts him on that same rung. Joevin Jones and Kevin Molino have five and four WCQ goals, respectively, while Stern John leads the pack with 20 items.
Almost certainly, the 31-year-old Hyland will not get a chance to add to his tally. But if this was his swan song, at least he went out with a win.
There was likely to be significant interest in an ambitious 18-year-old attacker who hoped to launch his own career this evening. Gary Griffith III, son of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, was on the substitutes’ bench—despite his highly publicised and video-taped row with assistant coach Kelvin Jack on Saturday morning.
But Fenwick did not put on the young man.
In the end, the day belonged to the steely veteran captain, Hyland, and to the 25-year-old number 10, Muckette, who may someday find his future as a ‘number 8’ for Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-1-4-1): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 23.Jesse Williams, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 2.Aubrey David, 17.Justin Garcia; 15.Neveal Hackshaw; 11.Levi Garcia (14.Andre Fortune II 90), 8.Khaleem Hyland (captain), 10.Duane Muckette (18.Michel Poon-Angeron 46), 5.Judah Garcia (3.Joevin Jones 46), 7.Ryan Telfer (9.Daniel Carr 71).
Unused substitutes: 21.Denzil Smith (GK), 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 12.Robert Primus, 13.Hashim Arcia, 16.Gary Griffith III, 19.Daniel Phillips, 20.Noah Powder.
Coach: Terry Fenwick
St Kitts and Nevis (4-2-3-1): 23.Clifford Samuel (GK); 3.Gerard Williams (captain) (17.Malique Roberts 85), 6.Lois Maynard, 5.Andre Burley, 2.Ordell Flemming; 14.Raheem Somersall (21.Kalonji Clarke 85), 4.Theo Warton (8.Yohannes Mitchum 40); 11.Omari Sterling-James (20.Tiquanny Williams 68), 19.Romaine Sawyers (vice-captain), 10.Harry Panayiotou; 9.Rowan Liburd (7.Vinceroy Nelson 68).
Unused substitutes: 1.Zaykeese Smith (GK), 18.Julani Archibald (GK), 12.Petrez Williams, 13.Tahir Hanley, 15.Raheem Francis, 16.Keithroy Freeman, 22.Xavier French.
Coach: Leonardo Neiva
Referee: Randy Encarnación (Dominica)
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