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T&T in Jamaica for Dutch, French and Spanish tests.
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T&T in Jamaica for Dutch, French and Spanish tests.

Trinidad and Tobago Senior Men’s National football team are about to embark on a mission to end a 13-year Caribbean Cup title drought and secure a place in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. In addition to Caribbean supremacy, the Soca Warriors have as an added bonus, a spot at the 2016 Copa América Centenario.

The Soca Warriors sailed through the semi-final round series with an empathic 6-1 victory over Dominican Republic, a 2-0 win over table-propers St. Lucia, and a slim 1-0 victory over arguably one of their toughest opponents in the group, Antigua and Barbuda.

Having already clinched a spot in the finals, T&T needed to avoid defeat to the Antiguans, and a second-place Group finish. Second place then would have meant a tougher draw alongside host Jamaica, Haiti and Martinique, but the Warriors made no mistake, finishing undefeated and un-troubled.

The pan-men did well considering their lack of activity dating back to June. In fact, they were only able to train together mere days before the tournament kicked-off, precipitated by a familiar refrain, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s (TTFA) lack of money.

Trouble times, but T&T still progressing

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association are in terrible financial straits, probably the worst in over a decade?

There are no official sponsors, no consistent revenue, insufficient funds for marketing personnel and critically, little support from the T&T public. It has traditionally not been until the national teams start winning that the “bandwaggonists” start running out to hop on board, but that's another story.

Whatever little money the TTFA has gotten was quickly put towards paying creditors, retaining a bare minimum for day-to-day administrative activities.

Thus far the sole consistent financial support has been from the Ministry of Sport, and as everyone knows, the TTFA is no stranger to being used as a political football, no pun intended. How much funding the FA receives from the Ministry depends on how much political capital the ruling party could gain from the transaction, a calculation which is further complicated when the head of the TTFA is a member of the Opposition.

Remember this

The Senior Women pleaded for help without avail, and had it not been for head coach Randy Waldrum having to embarrass the country and forcing the government’s hand in the process, the team’s World Cup dream could have been dashed. As it stands, the women are flying their country's flag high as they made waves in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and are one win away from it's first ever World Cup appearance with only Equador standing in it's way.

The problems extend to the junior programs as well, as the 2013 Under-15 men's team that was forced to cancel its Cayman Island trip because of lack of funding from the T&T government. Some parents, many of whom had taken time off from work to make the trip with their sons were in tears as a result of the fiasco.

To compound matters, the Jack Warner/Anil Roberts LifeSport Programme was run without sufficient fiscal oversight, and as a result, over $400 million has gone missing or with $36 million dollars being paid to one contractor Adolphus Daniell, for services which were never rendered. Once again it seems that the penalty for stealing politicians in T&T is retirement without jail. There is a new Minister of Sports, Dr. Rupert Griffith and at least for the time being, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Despite all of the politics surrounding T&T football there are many bright spots and, to be fair, the TTFA has been doing a relatively good job considering the lack of constant funding.

On the field the Trinidad and Tobago’s Men’s National Under-20 and Senior Men’s teams are both through to the Caribbean finals. T&T Under-17 men's team with a little luck scraped through to the CONCACAF finals as well. The men's Under-20 team and the Senior Women's team are both Caribbean Champs.

It is worth remembering here that it has been 13 years (as with the Senior Men's team) since the Senior Women's team has lifted a Caribbean Cup title.

To take it a bit further, for the first time in six all-time attempts, the Trinidad & Tobago Women’s Under-20 advanced to the semifinals of a CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship last January.

The TTFA were also successful in securing top friendly matches against; Iran, Romania, Estonia, New Zealand, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, United Arab Emirates and South American giants Argentina. And let’s not forget the 5-year shirt partnership deal with Spanish sporting apparel company JOMA.

These are accomplishments that should not be ignored and one could only imagine how much more could have been achieved had there been more consistent revenue. The TTFA General Secretary, Sheldon Phillips, who has been in the thick of things must be credited for his hard-work and dedication along with his skeleton staff.

Phillips told SWO: "What we set out to do was; First, make the flagship programs (men's and women's teams) marketable and winning again. In order to do that we had to find coaches that had a track record and whom we felt would make the biggest impact with the limited resources we have."

"Secondly, we wanted to use our flagship teams to raise the profile of the country. With the men that meant playing more, against high profile teams, and generating the type of performances that would enable us to get back on our international football credibility."

Thirdly, we set out to reform how the FA is governed by taking on serious reform efforts and assembling an impressive group to work on a series reform recommendations beginning with addressing the FA constitution so that more clubs will play a direct role and other stakeholders will have a level of balance they hadn't enjoyed before in FA governance."

"The last and most important goal is to attack the debt and take the FA back into the black. We have paid down $11 million in debt and are working on ways to attack the remaining debt, especially that which is owed to coaches and players, Phillips stressed."

Hart matters

The Soca Warriors meanwhile, has been on the up since the hiring of head coach Stephen Hart. The team has been playing a more structured football and his rotation and selection of players have been a relief and a breath of fresh air. He has managed to bring out the best in players, who all seem to want to play for him.

Thus far T&T is unbeaten at the 2014 Caribbean Cup under coach Hart with 3 wins in 3 games, scoring 9 goals while conceding just one. Whether Hart be tested next rounds remains to be seen, but he certainly has the ability if not the tools.

Hart told the SWO that he was pleased with the players overall approach and the manner in which they played in the previous round. “I do have concerns that several of our key players are not playing consistently. We have spoken about this and they know where they stand."

"Also, this competition is complicated seeing that the opening games start on November 11th and several of our players have club games on the 8th and 9th which means that they will not be released for the opening game or even games. We have to manage this situation very carefully."

"We are going to do our best to win this tournament, however, our objective is to qualify for the 2015 Gold Cup. The Copa America issue is for 2016 and quite frankly that is a one off and simply icing on the cake."

"We have to face certain realities with T&T football at present, not to mention that World Cup qualifiers could very well start late 2015, early 2016. We must set goals and our priorities and work to make it reality."

The Soca Warriors Patriots

T&T are spearheaded by top marksman and captain Kenwyne Jones. The 6 foot-3 Cardiff City striker has found his goal-scoring boot since the beginning of his club 2014/15 season, he has also been racking up the goals for T&T scoring 3 in his last 3 games.

Jones told the SWO: "As a team we did well in the previous stage, these games were the ones that we used to try a few new things tactically and they worked. It was a grueling schedule playing 3 games in 5 days but we pulled through while implementing some new things to our game."

"There were a couple new faces in the team, which was good to see and they contributed well, I hope to see them in the next round and also in future camps."

"Now we are placed in a group with a couple unknown teams but we're going to be very business-like in trying to reach the goal of winning the Caribbean Cup. It's almost certain by public standards we're expected to reach the final but I think for us we want to win the Cup and at the same time respect our opponents, it's about time we assert ourselves back at the top of the Caribbean again, added Jones."

T&T is packed with a lot of attacking midfield options to help Jones on-top.

The return of midfielder Hughtun Hector has brough some spark and charisma back to the center of the field. Lester Peltier can be a handful and uncontainable when he is on top of his game.

Andre Boucaud is the man who can score long distance goals and sweep the midfield at the same time, Boucaud can also rely on help from iron-men Kevan George and Racing Genk's Khaleem Hyland. Former T&T striker Jamal Gay is another option, as he has been having some top games for his club Rovaniemen Palloseura since converting to a defensive midfielder.

Then, there is Cordell Cato and Ataullah Guerra, both are gems who can turn up the heat at any moment.  Finally, there’s Kevin Molino, a player who has grown into a top class talent, and probably one of T&T's best midfield players today.

T&T backline are no pushovers, starting with Yohance Marshall, who despite being clubless (he’s former Central FC defender) can still play his part in defence and is capable of making some intelligent long-range passes.

Carlyle Mitchell, Daneil Cyrus and Radanfah Abu Bakr can anchor the center perfectly and have the height to win anything in the air that comes their way.

Joevin Jones, Aubrey David and Justin Hoyte are excellent wingbacks who loves to overlap. Despite being recently released by his Club HJK Helsinki after making possibly 7 appearances for them since he joined the Finnish Champions 2 months ago, Joevin Jones has been a mainstay on the left-side of defence for T&T.

And between the sticks Marvin Phillip and the experience Jan-Michael Williams stands tall, the two has been going at each other for the starting role since at the Under 17 level. Both keepers are capable starters. Newly called-up Police FC keeper Adrian Foncette will also be waiting on the wings to step in between the uprights if the opportunity arises.

Then when you look at support players such as Jonathan Glenn (who has gained his first international call-up), Leston Paul and Shahdon Winchester it really gives Hart a welcomed selection dilemma.

Lady-lucky draw

Trinidad and Tobago meantime, are grouped with defending champions Cuba, Curacao and French Guiana. The eight-time Caribbean champions will open the final group stage against Curaçao, they then face French Guiana and will close off against defending champs Cuba.

Fortunately for T&T they will probably face their toughest opposition last and by then they should know their faith and will more than likely would have settled on which route to take against the Cubans. The Warriors however, will get another chance to avenge their loss to their Spanish speaking northern neighbours, who pipped them 1-0 for the 2012 Caribbean Cup trophy.

Opponents

T&T have met French Guiana on 3 occasions in the past 30 years, winning all 3 games (1-0 in 1983; 3-1 in 1989; and 4-1 in 2012). French Guiana however, blew through their preliminary round, defeating Aruba, Turks and Caicos Islands and British Virgin Islands, scoring 14 goals and conceding none.

In the second-round group phase however, after two games they were last to St Kitts and Nevis, Haiti and Barbados with one win and one loss. Luckily for the South Americans they had to face one of the weaker teams in the group, Barbados last and as expected they were victorious when they walked away 2-0 winners, enough to have sealed a place in the final stage.

AJ Saint-Georges FC striker Gabriel Pigrée, 26, has been an inspiration for them and is the current overall CFU leader with 8-goals. In 2012 he also led the charts alongside Cuba's Ariel Martínez, Haiti's Jean-Philippe Peguero, Antigua's Peter Byers and Frédéric Piquionne of Martinique.

T&T has never met Curaçao at this level. And like French Guiana, they too were last on the table after two games against Martinique and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the second round group phase. The Dutch islanders also pulled a rabbit from their hats when they shocked one of the group favorites Guadeloupe (1-0) to steal a spot in the finals and in the process send Guadeloupe home packing.

Curaçao will be no walkovers and definitely have enough talent to compete at his level and cause a few upsets. Half of the Dutch speaking Caribbean-side are based in the Netherlands playing consistently in the Dutch leagues, and they likely will be motivated to remove the group underdog-tag from their name.

Cuba on the other hand has played T&T 13 times at the Caribbean Cup level. T&T has managed to get the better of them 8 times, losing 4 and recording one draw. The last time both teams met was in the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals as mentioned, where Cuba prevailed 1-0 winners and were crowned Caribbean champs.

The Trinidad and Tobago team is certainly capable of winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup, and government support or not, one thing is for certain, T&T will be a force at the 2014 Caribbean Cup in Jamaica. Time to get behind our team.

About the Caribbean Cup

The final competition stage (8 teams) is scheduled for kick-off from 11–18 November in Montego Bay Jamaica. The top four teams qualify for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup automatically while the fifth place team will play a playoff match against the fifth place team from the 2014 Copa Centro-americana tournament.

This is the first time that the two overall fifth-placed teams compete to qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, previously five teams from Central America and four from the Caribbean have qualified for the Confederation's competition.

T&T 23-man Squad

Goalkeepers

Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC/TRI), Marvin Phillip (Point Fortin Civic Centre/TRI), Adrian Foncette (Police FC/TRI).

Defenders

Radanfah Abu Bakr (Kruoja Pakruojis/LTU), Justin Hoyte (Millwall/ENG), Joevin Jones (W Connection/TRI), Daneil Cyrus (Hà Nội T&T/VIE), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps/CAN), Aubrey David (FF Jaro/FIN), Yohance Marshall (Unattached).

Midfielders

Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk/BEL), 
Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge/ENG), Kevan George (Columbus Crew/USA), Ataullah Guerra (Central FC/TRI), Leston Paul (Central FC/TRI), Jamal Gay (Rovaniemen Palloseura/FIN), Hughtun Hector (Hà Nội T&T/VIE), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava/SVK), Kevin Molino (Orlando City/USA), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes/USA).

Forwards

Kenwyne Jones (capt) (Cardiff City/WAL), Jonathan Glenn (Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja/ISL), Shahdon Winchester (FF Jaro/FIN).

2014 Caribbean Cup Group A Fixtures

Nov 11

5:30, Curaçao vs Trinidad and Tobago, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Cuba vs French Guiana, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Nov 13

5:30, French Guiana vs Trinidad and Tobago, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Cuba vs Curaçao, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Nov 15

5:30, French Guiana vs Curaçao, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Cuba vs Trinidad and Tobago, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

2014 Caribbean Cup Group B Fixtures

Nov 12

5:30, Haiti vs Antigua and Barbuda, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Jamaica vs Martinique, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Nov 14

5:30, Martinique vs Haiti, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Jamaica vs Antigua and Barbuda, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Nov 16

5:30, Antigua and Barbuda vs Martinique, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay
8:00, Jamaica vs Haiti, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Third place match

Nov 18

5:00, Runner-up Group A vs Runner-up Group B, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay

Final match

Nov 18

8:30, Winner Group A vs Winner Group B, Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay



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