|Trinidad & Tobago||Guadeloupe|
|Stern John (pen 88')|
CONCACAF Gold Cup Qualifier
|2003-03-28||Marvin Lee Stadium||Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago||4000|
Warriors must win
|Trinidad and Tobago national football team technical director Hannibal Najjar will face the toughest test of his six-month term today as the Soca Warriors play their final Group B CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying fixture against Cuba at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella.|
It is Cuba who kick off todays 7 p.m. match-up as group leaders and, for the first time, Najjar is in a must-win situation.
He claimed to be relishing the challenge.
This is what I want the boys to face up to, Najjar told the Sunday Express yesterday. I am tired of being in the luxurious position where all we need is a draw...
I dont think anybody can score on us and I dont think there is anyone in the tournament who can stop us from scoring.
It was a powerful vote of confidence in the abilities of his own team as Friday nights scare at the Marvin Lee Stadium, Macoya, seemed all but forgotten.
There was just one minute remaining on the clock when stand-in captain Stern John converted a hotly-debated penalty for a last-gasp 1-0 win for the Warriors against a ten-man Guadeloupe outfit.
Najjar insisted that they deserved their break.
I think it was a good one, said the coach. I think it was unquestionable... But, even if it wasnt, I feel it was justice for the game.
The Guadeloupans may disagree.
From the kick off, it was the green-shirted Frenchmen who started brighter, encouraged by the absence of injured T&T captain Marvin Dog Andrews.
Frederic Benon and Laurent Farnabe had hurried efforts at goal from distance, while only the lanky legs of Warriors sweeper Dennis Lawrence denied dangerous striker Olivier Fauconnie as he tried to capitalise on an errant Anton Pierre pass.
Gradually, though, the hosts began to find their way on the hard, bouncy pitch.
Dwayne Demmin, who replaced Andrews, was a key contributor as his solid performance proved to be a worthy foil for another majestic performance from Lawrence.
Demmin, whose last competitive international cap came ten years ago as a teenager, would not have minded the presence of his elder brother, Craig Demminpossibly the first time that brothers have represented the national team together since Andy and Eddie Aleong played in the 1960s.
At the quarter-hour mark, T&T got their first good look as Brent Rahims long, probing pass found John, who was denied by the legs of opposing goalie Fabrice Mercury.
John, who stayed closer to the opposing goal than he did in his opening game, had two more chances before the interval but could find no way past Mercury.
Najjar reckoned that at least one of those opportunities should have been converted.
You expect the senior players to put away those chances, he said. Stern had two clear-cut chances and, when we dont put them away, we keep the other team in the game.
There was the suggestion from both parties that the English Premier League sharpshooter has not yet adapted to Najjars 4-5-1 philosophy.
John explained that he joined Collin Samuel as an orthodox striker because he felt he would not have been as effective playing deep on the smaller Marvin Lee Stadium field.
Still, there was no ambiguousness about where he felt most comfortable on the field.
I am a striker, said Birminghams leading goal scorer. I am a born forward, that is my position, but that is what the coach wants...
Najjar insisted that he will allow his star player certain freedoms, but they were not to be abused and he urged John to be less apprehensive in using his teammates.
He is the most experienced, highest-level player in the tournament, said Najjar, but he is still only 26. I will be 50 this year.
Hopefully, he will hear the sense in what I have to say so he will continue to improve.
It is the inevitable orientation period between new and old team members and Najjar tried to accelerate the process yesterday with an outing to Movie Towne for some extra bonding time.
Jason Scotland, the Guadeloupans might sarcastically point out, was already in character on Friday night.
The explosive Defence Force striker was introduced with roughly 26 minutes remaining and, after failing to make the necessary impact on his feet, he struck gold off them as his theatrical tumble brought the decisive penalty.
It was hardly his only contribution, though.
Scotty added a new element to the offence with his speed and single mindedness, although he entered minutes after Fauconnie was ejectedpresumably for a loose word out of turn to referee Barney Callendar from Barbados.
Najjar pointed to Scotlands introduction as the turning point in the match, but Fauconnies expulsion was equally important.
I am working very hard for (Scotland) to understand how gifted he is, said Najjar.
There was evidence of such promise in the 77th minute when the striker nonchalantly tapped the ball through an opponents legs before unleashing a thunderous 22-yard drive which Mercury blocked as a matter of self preservation.
But his fall over the legs of Guadeloupe stopper Pascal Chimbonda was more conclusive.
John made no mistake from the resulting penalty, putting behind him a tough night when he seemed regularly frustrated by his service and the rough tactics of his markers.
He urged fans to understand his shyness to become involved in the more physical play.
I dont have anything to prove, he said. You dont have to hold on to the ball and dribble for the crowds to have a good game. You will get damaged. I am playing a mature game.
And no disrespect to the players we are coming up against, but they are a bit clumsy.
The main thing right now is just getting the results and qualifying for the (Gold Cup) tournament.
A win against the similarly unbeaten Cubans today is essential.
Cuba, who used three under-20 players on Friday, downed Antigua and Barbuda 2-0, despite losing star striker Lazaro Darcourt on a Macoya field that was again criticised by the home team.
Najjar, who is set to again tinker with his line-up, promised another win for the Warriors.
I think Cuba is very organised and very methodical, he said. They are nothing fancy though... I believe we will get the better of them.
They havent met what we have to present against either Antigua and Guadeloupe.
Both those teams play loosely, but we are not loose.
It is a significant part of Najjars blueprint to quell the Cuban revolution.
|6.||Avery John 60 '|
|55' Devon Mitchell|
|64' Jason Scotland|
|14.||Stern John (capt.)|
|82' Kurt Williams|
|55'||Devon Mitchell for Anton Pierre|
|64'||Jason Scotland for Hayden Fitzwilliams|
|82'||Kurt Williams for Collin Samuel|