Trinidad and Tobago’s senior team came from a goal down to complete a 4-1 victory over French Guiana to get their Caribbean Cup off to the desired start at Warner Park on Wednesday night.
With the “Money or maybe not” issue hanging over their heads for the past few days, skipper Jan Michael Williams and his men produced a valiant display to jump to the top of Group 5 after hosts St Kitts/Nevis could only muster a 2-0 win over Anguilla in the evening’s second encounter.
Those results set up a key fixture between T&T and St Kitts from 8pm on Friday as the match winner could well finish table toppers and book their place in the next phase scheduled to take place in T&T next month.
Head Coach Hutson Charles opted for Jamal Gay as his lone forward with five in the middle of the park using Densill Theobald, Hughtun Hector and Joevin Jones with Keon Daniel on the left and Kevon Carter on the right. His back four included Carlyle Mitchell, Seon Power, Daneil Cyrus and Robert Primus.
T&T looked untroubled in the early parts but were punished in the 16th minute when Hector slipped in the middle and French Guiana broke forward with Ludovic Balal taking possession and slipping forward to Ducan Darcheuolle who collected untroubled atop the area before turning and firing low past a stranded Williams to put French Guiana 1-0 ahead.
T&T tried to hit back immediately as a minute later Gay saw his effort going inches wide of the far left post after Hector’s cross from the right found him just inside the box. Moments later Hector also had an effort narrowly missing the target.
T&T began to find momentum and pushed forward in search of the equalizer against a French Guiana side that included defender Lesly Malouda who plays for French club Dijon FCO and is the brother of Chelsea winger Florent Malouda.
Daniel, coming off a series of sterling performances for the Philadelphia Union in the American MLS brought his A-game to Warner Park and was easily T&T’s player of the match. He had two close efforts before T&T eventually equalized. Daniel was also sturdy on the defensive as well.
The ex-Caledonia AIA midfielder was involved in the build up to the goal, playing inside to Jones who played a onetime ball and Hector did the rest, clinically firing past Rudy Merille in the 25th minute.
Nine minutes later, Theobald, another solid performer for T&T on the evening, served one from the left on a platter for the lurking Gay who stabbed home from close range to push T&T 2-1 ahead.
T&T forced four consecutive corners just before the interval but were unable to stretch their lead as their opponents did everything to keep themselves in the game.
On the resumption, T&T still could not pull further away and were found to be somewhat lethargic at times as the game approached the hour mark. Charles could be heard screaming instructions for his players to “step forward” as he clearly realised a two-goal advantage was crucial at that stage.
Hector forced Merille to save from a tight angle and Williams had to save low to deny Ducan after some miserable work by T&T around the penalty box on 56 minutes.
Then came Daniel’s superb strike. From a Hector right side corner, Mitchell headed downward and Daniel met in on one bounce to unleash a left footed volley that left Merille without a prayer.
Theobald then combined with Daniel who unselfishly laid the ball across for Plaza to bury from close range for T&T’s fourth item.
The victory was taken in good stride by Charles who had earlier been sent off the bench by Cuban referee Marcos Despaigne for questioning the official’s failure to blow for a rash challenge on Theobald in the 86th minute.
“I thought we produced the kind of football that gave us just the right start for the tournament,” Charles told TTFF Media.
“We came into this match under some pressure of course because we know a lot of eyes were on us because of everything that was taking place. I thought the guys executed well. We had a shaky start but I was pleased with the way we regrouped and bounced back.
We had a couple clear cut chances and even though we failed to put them away, the guys kept going at French Guiana.
“I thought the French Guiana team was not a bad one by any means. They had some players who understand their roles well and they played with a lot of determination and were organized at times. But we also got our act together and it showed with the final scoreline.”
Skipper Williams added “It didn’t come easily. I thought the game was well played. It was the first time we had the chance to play together in an international game. It augers well for our future games. The key for us was staying together. We showed that strength,passion and we strived to do well for the country”.
T&T: - 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt), 5.Carlyle Mitchell, 3.Joevin Jones, 12.Robert Primus, 20.Seon Power, 17.Daneil Cyrus, 7.Hughtun Hector (2.Clyde Leon 88th), 19.Keon Daniel (Yellow 69), 18.Densill Theobald, 11.Kevon Carter (14.Willis Plaza 79th) 15.Jamal Gay (Yellow 36) (10.Richard Roy 69th).
Unused Subs: – Marvin Phillip, Curtis Gonzales, Kareem Moses, Devorn Jorsling.
French Guiana: - 1.Rudy Merille, 2.Michael Rimane (5.Serge Lesperance 67th), 4.Rhdy Evens, 10.Lesly Malouda, 3.Marvin Torvic, 7.Albert Ataiso, 9.Darcheuoville Ducan, 6.Ludovic Balal, 12.Samuel Sophie (Yellow 51), 15.Nekie Adipi (11.Gary Pigree 75th), 16.Cary Marigard.
Unused Subs: – Choune Ho-Meou, Francois Sampain, Miguel Haabo, Stephan Clet, Jean Petot-Homme.
Standings (Group 5)
P W D L GF GA Pts
Trinidad & Tobago 1 1 0 0 4 1 3
St Kitts & Nevis 1 1 0 0 2 0 3
Anguilla 1 0 0 1 0 2 0
French Guiana 1 0 0 1 1 4 0