Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Angus Eve pointed to the high altitude and the quality of his opponents, Bolivia, as the Soca Warriors crashed to a 5-0 friendly defeat tonight in Sucre—the largest defeat of his tenure so far.
Eve told Wired868 beforehand that the Warriors were not prepared for this outing and he was always likely to be proven correct at the Estadio Olímpico Patria—2,810 metres above sea level.
In the end, it was a chastening experience as Bolivia chalked up their most lopsided win in 20 years, following a similar 5-0 result against Trinidad and Tobago’s South American neighbours, Venezuela, on 2 June 2001.
Eve said Bolivia had initially offered to play the match at Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which is 400 metres above sea level—Port-of-Spain is 66 metres above sea level. Still, the Warriors knew what they were getting into more than a week ago and accepted the invitation anyway.
“I was not expecting the result but I expected the way it would have gone when we took the game,” Eve told the TTFA Media, after this evening’s contest. “It was really difficult from a physical standpoint for the players and once your physicality goes, the technical part of [your game] tends to go. We played a very good team tonight.”
Bolivia are eighth in the 10-nation South America World Cup qualifying zone, but their last outing produced a 3-0 win over Uruguay and ‘La Verde’ remain contenders for the Qatar tournament.
In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago tumbled out of the World Cup qualifying campaign at the feet of The Bahamas just seven months ago, while the country’s football programme remains in a holding pattern—at best—in more ways than one.
It was a mismatch even before the opening whistle.
Eve’s team started in a 5-3-1-1 formation with Canada-based attacker Ryan Telfer, a winger with his club, again asked to impersonate a centre-forward.
“I thought Telfer was consistent in what he was trying to do,” said Eve after the match.
It was clear the coach meant it as a compliment. However, despite being lively and workmanlike, Telfer has rarely shown the guile or acceleration necessary to threaten opposing defences by himself. And his second half replacement, Reon Moore, certainly got more touches in and around the opposing penalty area.
Eve’s starting team had no recognisable ball-handlers in midfield or a genuine wide threat—Alvin Jones and Justin Garcia were asked to run the entire flank as wing-backs. As a result, the Warriors seemed to have no obvious way of troubling Bolivia when they won possession.
Jones had an early sniff in the seventh minute, when he ran on to a diagonal ball from central defender Jamal Jack and just missed the far corner with a drive from an improbable angle.
Otherwise, it was all Bolivia. And if anything it was a surprise that it took as long as 35 minutes before the first goal.
Bolivia used a 3-4-3 system and right wing-back Erwin Saavedra worked a one-two with Juan Carlos Arce before drawing contact with veteran T&T defender Radanfah Abu Bakr to earn a penalty kick.
And the 36-year-old Arce sent Warriors goalkeeper Adrian Foncette the wrong way from the spot for the opener.
Arce scored twice against Uruguay last November and was one of six starters from that day who faced the Warriors at kick-off. Bolivia were not at full strength but coach César Farías was certainly a lot closer to his full complement than Eve. And it showed.
Bolivia centre-forward and captain Marcelo Martins hit the heel of the far post with an exquisite volley in the 44th minute before Rodrigo Ramallo doubled the hosts’ advantage seconds later with a rocket from the edge of the area—under minimal pressure from attending defender, Jack.
At the interval, Bolivia had had 17 shots to 1 from the two- island republic. If Eve’s hope was to park the bus, the Warriors’ backline more closely resembled a Cube.
The coach said the atmosphere inhibited his players.
“Normally, Jesse Williams is one of the fittest players we have and he couldn’t come back out for the second half,” said Eve. “I think it is going to augur well for them playing under this kind of atmosphere—[the] atmosphere in the stands, atmosphere in the air. I was on the bench and it was difficult for me too.”
Seventeen-year-old former Naparima College schoolboy Molik Khan went on at the interval for his first senior international appearance and Hashim Arcia and Moore joined him. Diminutive midfielder John-Paul Rochford was not far behind.
The changes added some energy but not necessarily quality. On the ball, the Warriors were often hurried and sloppy and rarely produced anything to trouble Bolivia’s three-man defence.
Eight minutes into the second half, Bolivia got their third through Martins, who hit into the far corner from close range—after stand-in T&T captain and central defender Mekeil Williams gambled to try to intercept a Bruno Miranda pass and failed to get there.
Arcia and Moreno combined to provide substitute Leonel Justiniano with the fourth item in the 63rd minute. It was Justiniano’s second goal after 43 international appearances.
He was not expected to feature at all today owing to a Covid-19 positive result over the weekend. However, Bolivians do not seem to care for long quarantines and a negative test result appears to be all you need to return to work.
By then, Eve might have felt sick himself.
The fifth duly came in the 86th minute as Miranda, another recent Covid-19 ‘patient’, scored from close range after Martins struck the upright for the second time.
The final tally read 29 shots to six, with Bolivia also enjoying 71% possession.
After the final whistle, Eve pointed to positives to take away from the game.
“The guys fought, they were resilient sometimes,” he said. “We went about 30-something minutes without conceding and then we conceded some soft goals. But there were a lot of positives:
“Molik Khan coming on–he looked well–young Rochford tried to do some stuff. I thought Jamal Jack was solid at centre-half. Alvin Jones. I thought Foncette was good. So there were positives coming out of the game.”
There are two Fifa international match windows left before the Concacaf Nations League kicks off in June.
If Eve were still in charge of Naparima College, he would have his fixtures in hand and a pre-season tour mapped out with opponents selected to match his objectives.
At the international level, Concacaf’s dozy executives have not even drawn the groups yet for the lower tiers of the Nations League—so as to allow coaches to prepare for the specific styles of their upcoming opponents.
And the Robert Hadad-led normalisation committee remains unable or unwilling to sanction a trip to Barbados or Guyana, let alone to nations like Grenada, Martinique and St Kitts and Nevis, who routinely hosted the Warriors in yesteryear.
In the long run, an undressing from Bolivia might be the least of Eve’s problems. The freshly minted head coach continued to put on a positive face, though.
“[Tonight’s game] was a learning experience for us,” said Eve, “and we can only build from this.”
Trinidad and Tobago (5-3-1-1): 22.Adrian Foncette (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 5.Jamal Jack, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17.Mekeil Williams (captain), 18.Justin Garcia (8.John-Paul Rochford 61); 23.Jesse Williams (13.Reon Moore 46), 15.Neveal Hackshaw (14.Hashim Arcia 46), 11.Noah Powder; 20.Ajani Fortune (10.Molik Khan 46); 7.Ryan Telfer (19.Matthew Woo Ling 80).
Unused substitutes: 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 2.Stephon Marcano, 3.Keston George, 12.Michel Poon-Angeron.
Coach: Angus Eve
Bolivia (3-4-3): 1.Carlos Lampe (GK); 8.Diego Bejarano, 5.Adriano Jusino (4.Luis Haquin 67), 21.Jesús Sagredo (3.Alejandro Chumacero 54); 16.Erwin Saavedra (19.Marc Enoumba 67), 10.Fernando Saucedo (6.Leonel Justiniano 54), 14.Moisés Villaroel, 18.Rodrigo Ramallo (22.Juan Alexis Ribera 67); 11.Bruno Miranda, 9.Marcelo Martins (captain), 7.Juan Carlos Arce (2.Yesit Martínez 79).
Unused substitutes: 12.Daniel Vaca (GK), 23.Jhohan Gutiérrez (GK), 13.César Menacho, 15.Rai Lima, 17.Carlos Áñez, 20.Henry Vaca.
Coach: César Farías
(21 January 2022 in Sucre, Bolivia)
Bolivia 5 (Juan Carlos Arce 35 (pen), Rodrigo Ramallo 44, Marcelo Martins 53, Leonel Justiniano 63, Bruno Miranda 86), Trinidad and Tobago 0.