“We Going Korea! We Going Korea!”
That line was the popular one among members of the Trinidad and Tobago National Under 17 team at around 10 pm T&T Time on Sunday as the junior “Soca Warriors” booked to ensure participation in a football World Cup for the second time in less than a year for the twin-island Republic.
And 16-year-old Kevin Molino, hailing from Carenage will have his name go down in the record books alongside Dennis Lawrence as the one with the distinction of scoring the goal which pushed T&T through to the World Finals.
His 13th minute item was enough to hold off a desperate Jamaican outfit by a 1-0 margin and join fellow Concacaf nations Haiti, Honduras, Costa Rica and United States at the FIFA Under World Championship which kicks off in Korea on August 18 and runs until September 9.
Going into Sunday’s encounter, a draw would have pushed T&T through to the World Championship based on their head to head results, having won 2-1 over Canada which was on four points. But head coach Anton Corneal wanted a win and his players were made to think that only a win would see them through. They were instructed to stay discipline against the more powerfully built and forceful Jamaicans. They were told that once they played a clever tactical game with composure and determination that chances would come and clinical finishing would determine their fate. The rest is history.
From the kick off, Jamaica showed that they meant business with an effort from the left going wide of the upright but T&T soon settled and took the game to the “Reggae Boyz”.
Stephen Knox was not afraid to run at the Jamaican defence and pushed through to the touchline before being bundled over with the ball running out for a goal kick.
On eight minutes T&T made their first serious attempt at goal when left sided workhorse Akeem Adams floated one into the box and Knox nodded on for Robert Primus but he couldn’t keep his header down.
A minute later Jamaica responded, this time, Noel Mais shot wide from well inside the 18-yard box.
Jamaica were trying to make inroads from either sides of the pitch and opted for the deep service approach. McKauly Tulloch and Dever Orgill had further chances for them
But Molino, comingin for Daneil Cyrus and making his first start of the tournament, had other ideas. The little man, wearing the number 19 shirt and easily one of the smallest players on the field, thrilled the fans and troubled the Jamaican players with his deft touch and willingness to travel with the ball at his feet. Constant step overs and an almost unorthodox way of weaving his way between players made up Molino’s game. “Latapy come back again” was the clear choice of words being heard in the Jamaican accent from a few in the covered stands.
The CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh player rested the hurt on the “Reggae Boyz” and booked T&T’s passage to Korea in the process when he collected on the right and fluently moved goalwards, going between the two centre halves before clinically burying a right footer into the far corner of the net. Just like that and just as Corneal had ordered, T&T were up 1-0 and Korea looked closer.
As anticipated, the hosts didn’t back down. Shortly after Kabari Palmer picked up on a bad clearance and tried his luck from 35 yards out but to no avail.
From then on T&T goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel’s night of bravery began between the uprights. He would go on to make vital interceptions and stops to easily walk away with the “Man of the Match” award.
T&T continued to play though before the interval took both teams to the dressing rooms. Molino was busy on both sides even finding himself deep in his team’s half, going for balls and taking it forward. While Knox and Leston Paul would have been observed previously, the Jamaicans knew little or nothing of Molino and he was having a time.
Five minutes before the break, one came over from the right but Adams skied over bar as he rushed in on the far post.
For a period, the home fans, maybe about 5,000 of them in the Stadium, would go silent as T&T stifled their team on the pitch. To their credit too, they never once showed any signs of troubling the T&T team members nor their section of 60 odd fans positioned just above the players tunnel.
In the 43rd minute, Molino drifted down the left, played inside for Paul who in turn slipped to his right for Knox inside the box but even as he rounded goalie Oneil Wilson, his hurried shot went over an unprotected goal. A goal there probably would have taken the sting out of the hosts but they continued to press and out muscle T&T.
Almost on the stroke of half time though, Molino again caused them problems as he played inside for Knox but as quick ball runner moved away from the goalie, he pushed too much and had his tight angled attempt cleared by a defender.
One could sense that the Jamaicans would throw everything forward in search of the equalizer in the second half and that was exactly what transpired. T&T had to dig deep in defense but skipper Ryan O’Neil, workhorse Jean Luc Rochford and Robert Primus fought like “Warriors” at the back. And Samuel left his best performance of the series for the final bout. His showing was comparable to Floyd Mayweather’s gutsy display in the ring the previous night, his presence in goal growing stronger stronger as the battle ticked over. Early in the second half he had to recover quickly to stop a point blank effort by Mais after punching the initial cross and falling to the ground. Coach David Hunte introduced Akeen Brown and Andre Steele into the attack and though the fresh legs threatened T&T for a short period, it was not enough to break them. Down the stretch Chad De Freitas and Cyrus came on for T&T while Aubrey David had replaced injured defender Sheldon Bateau on 64 minutes.
As Jamaica forced their way in and around the T&T penalty area, the frightening shout of “Gooooallll” from the fans turned into jeers after Dever Orgill’s strike was ruled offside in the 65th minute.
Molino almost got a second goal 12 minutes from time when his shot was stopped by the ‘keeper after T&T tried to capitalize on a quick break. By then Jamaica were barely trying to spoil T&T’s eventual party but when the sounds of Machel Montano’s “We reach the stage… we warming up” blasted from the music boxes, it was a clear signal to Seoul that the “Soca Warriors” would be arriving in August.
Jamaica: - Oneil Wilson, Damaine Thompson, Kenneil Hyde, Marvin Boothe (Andre Steele 60th), Noel Mais (Christopher Waugh 76th), Jermaine Jarrett, Kabari Palmer, Shamari Brown, Yannick Salmon (Akeem Brown 59th), McKauly Tulloch, Dever Orgill.
Subs not used: - A Blake, P Kafach, C Banner, Adrian Christian, Shabon Brown.
Booked: - Shamar Brown (74th)
Trinidad & Tobago: - Glenroy Samuel, Ryan O’Neil (capt), Sheldon Bateau (Aubrey Davis 54th), Akeem Adams, Leston Paul, Stephen Knox (Daniel Cyrus 81st), Robert Primus, Jean-Luc Rochford, Chike Sullivan, Micah Lewis (Chad De Freitas 80th), Kevin Molino.
Subs not used: - J Fullerton, B Balbosa, S DeSilva, S Chang, M Joseph, I Ferguson.
Booked: - Ryan O'Neil (70th)
Officials: - Referee: Jose Guerrero (Nicaragua)
Assistant Referees: Hector Delgadillo (Mexico) & Florencio Osiris (Honduras)
Fourth Official: Rudolph Angela (Aruba)
Match Commissary: Colin Klass (Guyana)
Referee Inspector: Lisle Austin (Barbados)