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Offline Flex

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Building on the promise.
« on: July 21, 2015, 02:03:33 AM »
Building on the promise.
T&T Express Reports.


If a good public ‘bouffing' can trigger such improved performances, then Stephen Hart better get accustomed to berating his players in full view of the media after sub-standard performances.

Three weeks ago the coach of the senior men's national football team was chastising many of his charges in the wake of a 3-0 loss to Jordan in Amman, going so far as to say that some of the players lacked hunger and weren't worthy of wearing the national colours.

Maybe it's merely a coincidence, but the difference -– not just in terms of results but also in the manner of play -– in the side at the CONCACAF Gold Cup has been nothing short of remarkable in the wake of that dressing down.

Inevitably there will be exaggerations, there always are in a place like this. Still, it has pleasantly surprised even some of the most experienced and severe critics to observe the pace, aggression and far more clinical finishing than has been seen for many, many years as Kenwyne Jones' side finished top of their preliminary group at the tournament in the United States.

As well as they played in the 3-1 and 2-0 victories over Guatemala and Cuba respectively, it was their tenacity and determination not to be overawed by the always formidable Mexicans that produced a sensational 4-4 result in the final group fixture that will be remembered as one of the most entertaining games ever at the Gold Cup and certainly one of the high points of Trinidad and Tobago football in the nine years since going to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

Of course that game last Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, was hardly a testament to defensive discipline. The farcical manner in which central defenders Radanfah Abu Bakr and Sheldon Bateau contrived to hand Luis Tejada a gilt-edged scoring opportunity in the first half of yesterday's quarter-final against Panama was another reminder, assuming any were needed, that discipline at the back continues to be a significant stumbling block in the way of building a consistently successful national football team.

But maybe the most notable element of the Mexican game was T&T's never-say-die spirit, even after a 3-2 advantage became a 3-4 deficit with the final whistle looming when Jones, the former central defender for WC Connection, sliced an attempted clearance into his own net.

Yohance Marshall's stoppage-time equaliser from Joevin Jones' corner deservedly earned Trinidad and Tobago a share of the points and top spot in the group, not least because the disgraceful behaviour of some of the Mexican fans, who showered Jones with plastic bottles and other missiles at the corner flag, got a deserved reward.

Notwithstanding Hart's obvious anger at his team's showing in the Middle-East ahead of the Gold Cup, to say nothing of the never-ending duel between whichever government happens to be in office and the administrators of the national game, there has been a style and purposefulness to the play of the men and in red and black ever since the Canadian-born Trini took on the job two years ago and guided the side to the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup where they were eliminated by Mexico.

Fans of the game who are reasonably close to the players are suggesting that they have bought into Hart's philosophy and are prepared to play for him, even as the usual issues of compensation for the footballers and officials linger.

It is in that regard that Kenwyne Jones leads the charge. His experience and reputation as a formidable striker in the English Premier League was hardly in evidence in national colours under the coaches who preceded Hart. Within these past two years though, he is a different player, ready to muscle his way past opposing defenders and put his body on the line for the cause.

Denied before half-time yesterday in New Jersey when a diving header flashed over the frame of the goal, the captain made no mistake when another chance came his way early in the second half. His almost nonchalant headed equaliser from a free-kick got Trinidad and Tobago back in the game against the Panamanians and pulled Hart off the bench for what has become his trademark goal celebration in this competition.

Ten goals in three-and-a-half games for Trinidad and Tobago in a serious, proper competition. Imagine that!

However football, like any other sport, is about putting in everything right down to the final whistle and taking nothing for granted. As encouraging as these performances have been, it would almost come to nothing without advancing at least to the point of the 2000 Gold Cup squad under Bertille St Clair, who lost in the semi-finals to eventual champions Canada.

With 73 minutes gone it was still 1-1. Are we celebrating today or ruing another near miss?

The real measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.