Trinidad and Tobago earned a draw but looked good for all three points in a 1-1 draw with Cuba in their opening Caribbean Football Union final round Olympic qualifier at Warner Park, Basseterre on Thursday night.
Despite going a goal behind in the 21st minute, T&T hit back with Jamal Gay grabbing an equalizer three minutes later and should have gone on to secure a win had it not been for clear cut misses by Sean De Silva, Jayson Joseph, Trevin Caesar and Kevin Molino on either side of half time.
Cuba were pre-match favourites not only because of their recent history with T&T, having beaten the senior team 2-0 in the Digicel Cup last year as well as securing a 3-0 win in a previous 2008 Olympic qualifier but they were also coming off a high at the Pan American Games where they held Brazil 0-0 and were only just beaten 1-0 by Argentina. But T&T proved to be tough customers for them on better than usual playing surface at Warner Park.
The Cubans had the first couple tries at goal, one being deflected into the near side netting in the opening ten. On 19 minutes after a neat one two between Gay and Molino atop the area, the latter found De Silva wide on the left but he volleyed high and wide of the mark.
Two minutes later Cuba showed how to convert. A casual one time clearance by left back Joevin Jones went directly to Keilen Estrada on the edge of the box and he played a quick one two, running into the box to slap past Andre Marchan to put Cuba 1-0 ahead.
The goal was a blow to T&T but they weren’t down for long. A well orchestrated play with Molino at the centre of it led to Gay’s clinical finish. Molino surged forward, playing a quick give and go with Joseph before squaring for an onrushing Gay to bury low past an advancing Odisnel Despaigne.
T&T were settled and went on to play the rest of the half with relative ease. The likes of midfielder Jeromie Williams and defenders Leslie Russell and Aquil Selby were consistently up to the challenge. They handled almost everything the Cubans came with but failing to convert kept them on even terms.
Gay scores T&T's equalizer
On 33 minutes, while the effort would have looked good, especially for the cameras, Joseph might have had a better result had he taken an extra touch and shot instead of unleashing a one time left foot volley which flashed inches wide of the upright. Once again it was Molino picking him out from the right top of the box with a perfect delivery.
Haviel Gonzalez reminded the T&T defence that they were still capable of troubling them when he dragged one straight to Marchan. And on 43 minutes it was Molino’s turn to muff an opportunity. He picked up a return ball from De Silva before directing a right footer wide from the top edge of the area.
Four minutes after the resumption, Mekeil Williams’ perfect finish on the turn would have been possibly the play of the match but he was in an offside position. Trevin Caesar and Micah Lewis were introduced midway through the second half and both had further missed chances as both teams tried for a winner.
Marchan had a couple anxious moments late on but was up to the test as the Cubans tired in the final quarter. Gay proved to be a handful with his post up play and willingness to challenge in full for every high ball.
He would have made sure headlines though had he connected better from inside the six yard when Caesar crossed from the left. That chance for the big man and his teammates will come when they face the hosts St Kitts on Saturday from 8pm. Suriname faced St Kitts in the later match on Thursday night. The top two teams from the group will advance to the CONCACAF Finals in the USA next March.
T&T head coach Angus Eve wasn’t disappointed with the point.
“I thought defensive we were solid. We knew some of their players and we saw how they played at the Pan American Games. Our defenders did an excellent job limiting them to long range shots,” Eve told TTFF Media. “We gifted them a goal. I think we need to tighten up on our goalscoring chances because created a fair amount. We need a bit more composure in and around the penalty area and I think we’ll be alright.”
“I think five points will qualify us. We played really well tonight and I’m happy with the performance. Goalscoring has been a problem for us even though we have been creating a lot of chances. I’ve worked feverishly on dead ball plays and it was disappointing seeing the services going astray. We’ll work on that aspect of our game.
Jamal has been getting the goals but we haven’t been getting goals from our midfield. I want to keep the team in a positive frame because we have the hosts to play on Saturday and they will definitely come at us,” Eve added.
Goalscorer Gay wasn’t all smiles at the end as T&T completed their fourth consecutive 1-1 draw in competitive matches dating back to the Pan American Games.
“I felt good to have scored because I’ve been working hard but I would have preferred if we got the three points. It’s better than losing but this was a game we could have come out on top. Now we have to dig a bit deeper and ensure that we can not only finish unbeaten but get maximum points in our next two games,” said the former German-based forward.
Trinidad & Tobago: - Andre Marchan, Sheldon Bateau (capt), Joevin Jones (Yellow 12), Aquil Selby (Yellow 60), Jeromie Williams, Leslie Russell, Sean De Silva (Micah Lewis 63rd), Mekeil Williams (Jean-Luc Rochford 86th), Jayson Joseph (Trevin Caesar 69th), Kevin Molino, Jamal Gay.
Unused Subs: – Glenroy Samuel, Shahdon Winchester, Jerrel Britto, Kareem Moses.
Coach: - Angus Eve (T&T).
Cuba: - Odisnel Cooper, Jose Macias, Jorge Corrales (Yellow 75), Yoisel Salazar (Yellow 78), Yosvani Vincent, Carlos Francisco, Maikel Chang (Jorge Fariñas 90th), Dairon Blanco, Heviel Cordovés, Keilen García, Alejandro Marrero (Junior Ramírez 67th).
Coach: - Jose Elejalde (Cuba).
Referee: - Stanley Lancaster (Guyana).
Venue: - Warner Park Football Stadium, Basseterre (St Kitts/Nevis).
Attendance: - 1000.
P W D L F A Pts
Suriname 1 1 0 0 1 0 3
T&T 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
Cuba 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
St Kitts 1 0 0 1 0 1 0