T&T’s senior footballers will be aiming for its ninth Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Caribbean Cup trophy today, when the Soca Warriors come up against familiar opposition in Cuba, at the Antigua Recreation Ground, from 5 pm.
Apart from pride, a much need top prize purse of US$100,000 is at stake. T&T heads into the match confident after improving from an indifferent group stage performance, where it scraped through with four points via a win, a draw and a loss, all against traditionally weaker opponents. The Warriors then came from behind in the semifinal against Martinique to take a spot kick win (5-4) after both teams finished level at 1-1.
T&T’s custodian Jan-Michael Williams was the hero on the night, making several reflex saves late in the regulation time and then the penalty shoot out, when he saved Martinique’s fifth and final attempt from the highly-rated England based forward Frederic Piquionne, before Atuallah Guerra scored to send T&T through to the final.
Cuba, playing in the second match of a semifinal double-header at the Antigua Recreation Ground, on Friday night, defeated Haiti 1-0. Today’s venue for the final was originally the much more appropriate Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, but moved to the Antigua Recreation Ground, which has thus far seen several teams struggle to adapt to what appears to be an arid, hard, and uneven surface.
It was not long ago that the two teams met. Almost on the exact date last month, T&T hosted Cuba at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago and emerged victor via a goal from Guerra in the 67th minute. Incidentally, it is also a replay of the 1999 final, which was also hosted by T&T at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port-of-Spain.
The country’s record holding goal scorer Stern John won the match second to last minute to give T&T a 2-1 victory, after the two team ended regulation time locked at 1-1. Anthony Rougier got T&T’s other goal on the day. A year later T&T won the cup again with a 3-0 win over Haiti in the final, before Haiti exacted revenge with a 2-1 win in a 2007 replay of the final.
No country has won the competition more than T&T, which has eight title and three runner-up positions. Jamaica is the second most successful team with five titles, followed by Martinique and Haiti, which have one trophy each.
Cuba has never won the competition, but has finished second on three occasions. Just like T&T, Cuba finished runners-up in its group with a 1-0 loss to Martinique, a 2-1 win over French Guiana and a 1-0 victory over Jamaica. Relief, excitement and perhaps surprise were etched on the face of the T&T players and staff on Friday night following the spot kick win. The team will be looking to build on what was again an improved performance, but will be wary against a Cuba team, which will be out in full force.
Co-head coach Jamaal Shabazz, speaking after the match congratulated his team for the effort. “The guys showed every form of courage and determination to come away with the result today and we can only be proud of them and give them the credit they deserve,” said Shabazz. He then asked rhetorically, “How many people expected this team to reach within 90 minutes of becoming the kings of Caribbean football once again?
“It was a good, total team effort. Martinique scored at a time after we dominated possession even though we were not able to create much goalscoring opportunities. Our backs were against the wall. Jamal Gay came on and did well and we felt that Roy coming on was a last ditch effort coming on. All day he had been saying ‘Coach I have it’ and he proved himself,” Shabazz added.
“The tactical approach we used is what is in our minds. We cannot use the tactical moves of Gally Cummings, Brent Sancho or Angus Eve. We have to use what is in our minds and people must understand that we will make mistakes along the way but at the end of the day we are doing it for T&T and we are very proud at the moment.”
He continued, “We had specific goals and our first one coming here was to qualify for the Gold Cup and we did that, then our second goal was to reach the final and that has been accomplished. Now we have a strong desire to become Caribbean champions. We call on the nation to join in that desire and those who cannot be here with us, just send the positive vibes for us on Sunday.”