Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Ataullah Guerra transformed the Dwight Yorke Stadium into a love nest tonight with the decisive goal as the “Soca Warriors” advanced to next month’s 2012 Caribbean Cup finals in style with a 1-0 victory over Cuba 1-0 in Bacolet, Tobago.
Guerra hopped along the running track, blowing kisses to the crowd. And the patrons screamed back at him with adulation. It was Trinidad and Tobago football’s best moment this year so far.
The Warriors had qualified before the opening whistle thanks to a surprise 1-0 win for Suriname over St Vincent and the Grenadines at the same venue. St Vincent coach Cornelius Huggins did the hard work with his team, which managed successive 1-1 draws with Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba, and then left Tobago to attend a coaching symposium on his own island.
Only Huggins can say whether his decision was based on misplaced optimism or forced by his employers. Either way, the result was dire for “Vincey Heat” and there might be some awkward conversations when Huggins next meets his players.
In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago interim head coach Hutson Charles was beaming with pride as he addressed the media after the final whistle.
“We are very pleased to top the group,” said Charles. “We grew from strength to strength after every game.”
Trinidad and Tobago has now gone six games without a defeat while the win also means that the Warriors will avoid Jamaica in the group phase next month. Instead, captain Jan-Michael Williams and his men will play hosts Antigua and Barbuda, Martinique and the runner-up from another qualifying group that includes Haiti, Grenada and French Guiana.
Williams insisted that his team’s ambition is to regain the Caribbean title for the first time since 2001.
“The most important thing for us is to make the country proud,” said Williams, who was placed during the second half with an ankle sprain. “We want to put Trinidad and Tobago back in its rightful place at the top.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s last two Caribbean Cup excursions ended in group stage elimination under veteran coach Francisco Maturana in 2008 and novice Russell Latapy in 2010. It would be a stretch to say that the current squad has distinguished itself from either of the previous teams on the field yet.
But, mentally, the current crop seems primed for achievement. Arguably, they should not even be here.
Previous national teams complained, correctly, about meager match fees. This squad could barely find money for meals and laundry during an earlier qualifying round in St Kitts.
Abandoned financially by the Sport Ministry at one point and marooned by Tropical Storm Rafael, the Warriors decided to fight back rather than down tools. And it was the collective spirit that was evident again today against Cuba.
In a tight match, Cuba had the better scoring chances early on.
Beefy striker Roberto Linares hit the post with a header in the 19th minute and then was denied by a sharp Williams reflex save in the 23rd minute as the Trinidad and Tobago defence reacted sluggish to rapid Cuban attacks.
The Warriors held their own in possession though as the two teams traded blows in what, at times, was an attractive exhibition of football. Trinidad and Tobago’s best scoring chances came from long distance as midfielder Joevin Jones forced a flying save from Cuban custodian Julio Pichardo while winger Hughtun Hector and forward Richard Roy both went close too.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Charles introduced Guerra and the response was immediate in more than one respect.
Tobagonians apparently fall in love quickly. It didn’t take more than few glimpses of Guerra’s long stride and grace in possession to win over the supporters when the Warriors kicked off their campaign with a 1-1 draw against St Vincent on Wednesday. It was Guerra’s 24th birthday.
Charles demoted Guerra to the bench for the remaining two games. But Bacolet did not forget.
The sign of the “number ten” entering the field of play brought spectators to their feet tonight as Guerra received a rousing ovation in good faith before he had even contributed. Boy, did he repay them.
Within seconds, he was in control and charging at the centre of the Cuban defence. Roy sprinted around his shoulder and into the penalty box and Guerra passed neatly into his stride with a flick of the right boot.
Harassed by an attending Cuba defender, Roy could not take cleanly and the ball rolled obligingly back to Guerra who reacted quickly. The Caledonia player smashed it with such conviction that Pichardo probably didn’t see it until it was past him.
It was Guerra’s second international goal and his first on home soil and in a competitive game to boot. After a few seconds when he looked on the verge of spontaneous combustion, the John John resident rushed to share his moment with the Tobago crowd.
“I love them,” Guerra told Wired868, after the match. “They treated me so well here.”
Charles and Williams were united in their praise of the audience on the sister-isle.
“I think the fans in Tobago were tremendous,” said Charles. “They were real fans.”
Antigua and Barbuda is the next destination for the Warriors and Williams and Guerra insisted that today was just the beginning.
“As a player, you never settle for what you have already,” said Guerra. “There are plenty more special things to come.”
The belief is coming back. Just ask Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt) (21.Marvin Phillip 53rd); 4.Kern Cupid, 6.Kareem Moses, 20.Seon Power, 8.Aubrey David; 18.Densill Theobald (vice-captain), 3.Joevin Jones; 14.Hashim Arcia (10.Ataullah Guerra 66th), 16.Keyon Edwards, 7.Hughtun Hector; 13.Richard Roy (12.Curtis Gonzales 75th).
Unused subs: 2.Clyde Leon, 9.Devorn Jorsling, 11.Kevon Carter.
Coach: Hutson Charles.
Cuba: 12.Julio Pichardo; 14.Alianni Urgelles, 5.Jorge Clavelo (capt), 15.Renay Malblanche, 3.Jorge Corrales; 20.Alberto Gomez, 2.Carlos Francisco, 18.Ruslan Batista (13.Adonis Ramos 43rd), 11.Ariel Martinez; 7.Marcel Hernandez; 10.Roberto Linares (17.Alexy Zuazanabal 76th).
Unused subs: 1.Odelin Molina, 6.Yoel Colome, 8.Jaine Colome, 9.Yaudel Lahera, 22.Jose Cardenas.
Coach: Walter Benitez.
2012 Caribbean Cup semifinal phase
Sunday November 18
Suriname 1 (Ronny Aloema 42 pen) v St Vincent and the Grenadines 0, in Bacolet
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Ataullah Guerra 67) v Cuba 0, in Bacolet
P W D L GF GD Pts
1 ↑ Trinidad and Tobago 3 2 1 0 5 1 7
2 ↓ Cuba 3 1 1 1 6 2 4
3 • Suriname 3 1 0 2 1 8 3
4 • St Vincent and the Grenadines 3 0 2 1 2 3 2
Guerra strikes as T&T seals spot in Caribbean Cup finals.
By Shaun Fuentes (TTFF).
Ataullah Guerra struck his first international match winner and it pushed Trinidad and Tobago’s unbeaten run to six matches as the “Soca Warriors” defeated Cuba to top Group 6 of the Caribbean Cup qualifiers semi-final stage which ended at the Dwight Yorke Stadium on Sunday night.
T&T, following their 1-1 draw with St Vincent/Grenadines and 3-0 win over Suriname, went into Sunday’s final set of games, far from certain of a spot in next month’s finals. But they were breathing a lot easier by 6pm as Suriname completed a 1-0 victory over the Vincentians, in the process guaranteeing the hosts of one of the two qualifying spots along with Cuba.
With just the one change from Friday’s line up, Kareem Moses coming in for suspended defender Carlyle Mitchell, T&T produced their most assuring performance of the series to top the Group with seven points.
“It was a fitting end to the round for us,” head coach Hutson Charles said after the win.
“We came into this tournament looking for nine points like we had accomplished in St Kitts. We got seven and I’m satisfied with that. I thought we grew from match to match and that’s an encouraging sign.”
T&T’s possession game was better than the previous two encounters. But their first real good look at goal came after ten minutes when midfielder Hughtun Hector tested Julio Pichardo on his right near post but the custodian was up to the task. Joevin Jones, as comfortable and solid as ever in the midfield, also had a good effort saved by Hernandez four minutes later.
Cuba soon found their momentum. Their number 7 Marcel Hernandez was easily the most complete attacking player in the tournament and at times he looked capable of causing panic in the T&T back line. But the T&T defense stood firm and deserved credit for conceding only once in this round and twice in the six qualifying games so far.
Cuba’s Roberto Linares could have made life harder for Charles’ men but he just couldn’t hit the target. On ten minute his header hit the upright and he forced William to make a good stop in the 24th. Six minutes after the half time break Linares brought Williams into action again to keep the scores level.
Charles kept Keyon Edwards and Hashim Arcia in the starting team but it was obvious, that despite their efforts, it will take them a few more matches to settle at this level. Arcia had one shot at goal in the first half which went wide of the mark. Edwards was at one stage left as the lone man up front when
Charles introduced Guerra in place of Arcia. The Caledonia AIA man had possibly the easiest chance of the game when Hector and Jones combined superbly on the left but Edwards could not connect with dangerous ball from close in on the right post.
Fortunately, T&T were already up 1-0 as Guerra gave the fans in Tobago something to cheer loudly about when he picked up one just inside the area after Roy couldn’t get a proper look at goal, picked his spot and rifled into the net.
Linares had one further attempt after that and Alexy Grandales muffed a late chance after a rare mishap at the back by T&T.
The final whistle that signaled a win for T&T was most welcomed by the home fans as it was the first time that T&T completed a victory that meant anything in competition since the 4-0 win over Barbados in World Cup qualifying action back in October last year. The 2-0 win over Guyana came after T&T were already knocked out of qualifying a week earlier.
This time around though, despite all the trials, T&T will attempt to come in the first two in a group that will include Antigua & Barbuda, Martinique and Haiti.
Antigua & Barbuda (Host)
Trinidad & Tobago