As the T&T football team slumped to the ground in disappointment, the standing ovation from the crowd of 15,000 Iranian fans, was not only significant for its obvious appreciation but rather more for the acknowledgement from a home crowd that the visitors had performed above expectations.
Before the start of the match in Tehran, most of the Iranian media were quite certain, this would be an easy day,
"Iran has been on the improve since the World Cup and our players are looking at making a strong statement today (Thursday)," one confident Iranian journalist told us.
"T&T defeated USA, we know that, so this is our way to show that our football has grown over the years and at this stage, we are looking ahead to tough tests in 2019. We expect to win around 3-0,” added another Iranian journalist.
As the team settled into Iran, the T&T unit under the leadership of Dennis Lawrence has totally become a close-knit unit, and given the leadership qualities being shown by the senior players, it is evident that the momentum of this team is quite positive.
Lawrence has instilled a discipline and focused approach among a generally young group of players who are aware that the quality of their play will at least guarantee them fair consideration for selection.
When you remove favouritism or nepotism from any selection policy, intrinsically you build a "buy-in" from all players and essentially command their respect. And for me and for all of us this should be extremely important.
This is a trust that works both ways because when players believe that you are being honest with them, good, bad or indifferent, they listen and pay attention and in Iran, it was obvious that the team spirit is growing.
A new player (goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup) was easily welcomed and adapted to the atmosphere. To the credit of the management staff in Iran, besides the work being done by Lawrence, there was something else happening as I watched Stern John, Stuart Charles Fevrier, Sam Huggins and Ross Russell interact with the players, there was a clear sense that everyone was on the same page. It was clear there was one goal.
When the team arrived in Iran, thanks to a great welcome party organised by T&T-born Rae Ann and her husband, the team was treated to many wonderful meals and an early taste of Iranian food and hospitality, and totally enjoyed themselves.
On the field, I would like T&T to recognise the total commitment and effort from captain Khaleem Hyland, this young man wears his team’s heart on his sleeve and I truly get the feeling that he would do anything for this team and players on the field.
As to the match itself, goalkeeper Marvin Phillip has grown not only in stature but in confidence and was yet again outstanding for his country, his penalty save was splendid justice for disparaging refereeing and with Adrian Foncette, has the backup, our goalkeeping is in safe hands going forward.
Both Daneil Cyrus and Sheldon Bateau look inseparable in defence, together with wing-backs Alvin Jones and Tristan Hodge, defensively we are beginning to look solid again, notwithstanding there is always further work and improvement possible.
Leston Paul is a firebrand of a player as he absorbed a lot of pressure on the night but found both accurate passes and controlled touches when the team required such. Lester Peltier returned to the team and looked like he had never been away, he has matured and his future looks bright once he remains focused.
Every time, I watch Nathan Lewis in action, he impresses more and more, with his effort both in defence and attack as well as his positioning, as he always seems to get himself in the best scoring positions possible. Both Joevin Jones and Ataullah Guerra gave their best, particularly in the first 45 minutes, before travelling exertions and lack of recent regular competitive football respectively would have cut short their participation and best efforts on the night.
Youngsters Duane Muckette, Jomal Williams, Keston Julien Akeem Humphrey and Isaiah Lee are certainly willing and able and along with the more experienced Aubrey David, Curtis Gonzales and Cordell Cato are breathing fresh life into the football.
We can only await the return of Levi Garcia, Shahdon Winchester and Kevin Molino heading into next year. When players compete for places, it can only benefit the team.
Let us continue to give our support in action, not in words. As for others, the truth hopefully will open their eyes going forward.
SOURCE: T&T Guardian