Trinidad and Tobago’s Under 23 will face Cuba in what is expected to be their toughest outing of the Caribbean Football Union final round Olympic qualifier at Warner Park from 6pm on Thursday.
Both teams produced a decent showing at the recent Pan American Games in Guadalajara in which the Cubans drew 0-0 with Brazil and lost 1-0 to Argentina while T&T drew all three games against hosts Mexico, Ecuador and Uruguay.
T&T also had to get past Dominica 4-0 in July to advance to this final CFU round following a 1-0 win over Grenada and 1-1 draw with Curacao. Go here for more training photos
The T&T team arrived in Basseterre on Tuesday evening and had two training sessions on Wednesday, the second one being a 45-minute run out at the match venue in the late evening.
Head Coach Angus Eve is expecting Cuba to stand as possibly the strongest of all T&T’s opponents in this stage of the tournament and most fancied to also take one of the two spots at stake for the CONCACAF final round next year.
“We got a bit late on Tuesday but in saying that the guys are in good spirits. We had a good first session this morning and then 45 minutes on the match pitch in the later evening.
We’ve been basically just tightening up on a couple of things and getting some of the guys re-familiarized with each other with Kevin coming back from the senior team, Sean De Silva coming back from the US and Glenroy Samuel just coming in from Antigua,” Eve told TTFF Media.
Regarding his team's opponents, the former T&T captain said: “Cuba is a very good outfit and a very organized team. They have traditionally given us a lot of problems in the past and we therefore will not be taken them lightly. We saw them at the Pan American Games and they did pretty well. They certainly will be seeing themselves as one of the favourites here.”
Eve stressed to his players that all eyes would be on them to see if they are capable of bringing some respectability back to the T&T football on the international stage.
“It’s an unfortunate situation with the senior team as we would have preferred if they advanced but that did not happen. Now all that is really left is this Under 23 team to keep the Trinidad and Tobago flag flying in the field of football,” Eve said.
“So basically while not putting any pressure on them, what I’ve been trying to tell them is the responsibility that they have to the country to go out there and give of their best. Sometimes it’s not just about the ability that you posses but also doing it with the right attitude. We need to develop a winning attitude and this is what we’ve been focusing on.
“On paper you could have seen that our senior team is better than the Guyanese team but they probably wanted it more. The player has to want it and the coach’s job is to try and bring out that desire from them.
No coach can coach desire to a player. We have to go back to being the top team in the Caribbean and how do we do that? By just saying it? No! we have to go out there and showing it through our work ethic and the skill will come through once we put the hard work in,” Eve added.
Cuba’s technical Raul Gonzalez Triana meantime was confident his team would advance out of this round. Triana’s Cuban senior team defeated T&T 2-0 at the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup Finals.
“We are confident that we can be one of the two teams to advance from this stage. We know all three matches will be difficult but we have a good group of players who want to be successful. Our senior team is still in the qualification for Brazil and now our Olympic players want to be just as successful,” said Gonzales.
The T&T team will be captained by Sheldon Bateau with Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino expected to carry T&T’s attacking hopes.
Returning from the US college circuit is midfielder Sean De Silva while Joevin Jones will also need to play his part in the T&T back line. The attacking trio of Jamal Gay, Jerrel Britto and Trevin Caesar will also know that their form must be intact if T&T stands a chance of advancing to next year’s final stage.
Thursday’s second game will feature hosts St Kitts/Nevis and Suriname. T&T also faces the hosts on Saturday and Suriname two days later. Fans can log onto www.zizonline.com for live audio stream of the matches.