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Trinidad and Tobago's Alvin Jones chases a loose ball during a 2026 Concacaf World Cup Qualifier against Grenada at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo on Wednesday, June 5th 2024.

FOLLOWING his team's 2-2 draw against Grenada in the opening match of the Fifa 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo on June 5, Soca Warriors coach Angus Eve is reassuring the football public all is not lost on the team's quest to secure an automatic qualifying spot.

Against their spirited and physical Caribbean opponents, T&T trailed by a 2-0 margin inside the first half hour after a brace from English-based midfielder Myles Hippolyte. The Soca Warriors looked sluggish for most of the contest and seemed to be knocked off their stride by the physical approach of the Grenadians. They fought back, though, and got goals from attackers Ryan Telfer and Reon Moore to salvage a point in their group B opener. The mood among the 8,000-plus spectators at the venue was one of disappointment as opposed to relief, as the hosts were given a real scare against their 174th-ranked opponents.

"We didn't lose which is the most important thing. I think when we qualified in 2006, it was the same thing. We had a game against Costa Rica right in the stadium here. The campaign started the same way and we ended up qualifying," Eve said, at the post-match conference.

T&T's first game of the 2006 campaign was actually a 2-0 win over the Dominican Republic in the second round, with the Soca Warriors advancing to the next phase after a 6-0 aggregate win.

After navigating the second and third rounds, T&T met Costa Rica in the third match of the Concacaf Hex campaign – playing to a goalless draw in Mucurapo.

The Soca Warriors coach was far from satisfied with his team's first outing.

"It's always good not to lose a game, but there are a lot of things to be disappointed in. I thought our discipline was poor.

"The game was very open. There were a lot of chances on both sides. Probably a draw was the best we could have got out of the game the way we played."

Going into the half facing a 2-1 deficit, the Soca Warriors were struck a blow when their ace striker Levi Garcia was substituted after experiencing discomfort in his back following a challenge from a Grenada defender. Both Garcia and utility player Noah Powder were withdrawn at the break, with midfielder Andre Rampersad and right back Alvin Jones entering the proceedings. With the subs, the Soca Warriors had a change in shape to 5-3-2, with Moore and Telfer partnering each other in attack, and Jones slotting in at centre-back.

This isn't the first time the AEK Athens forward has been sidelined by injury in recent times, as he missed the majority of the Soca Warriors' 2023/24 Concacaf Nations League A campaign with a series of niggling injuries.

In the October and November 2023 Fifa windows, Jones was named to the Concacaf Nations League A Best XI, and he was a surprise exclusion from Eve's starting lineup on Wednesday. The coach didn't explain the decision to start the Miscellaneous Police FC player on the bench.

Both Jones and Rampersad affected T&T's play positively, particularly with their robust approach. T&T managed their equaliser in the 74th minute when Moore buried a right-footed shot from close range after Telfer flicked on a long ball.

"Sometimes it's about the balance of the midfield because we had a lot of attacking players...probably the guys didn't click today."

Again, the T&T coach said the team weren't given enough time to prepare for the games with the nature of the Fifa window.

"It's a difficult thing when you have one-and-a-half days with the squad. It's very difficult to get the cohesion of the team right. The window is from the June 3-10 and we're playing in the first couple of days in the window. Games could have been stretched out a little further for us.

"Unfortunately, we really didn't connect with each other tonight and I think the first three (in the midfield) tried to play the ball a little too tight."

Eve said a "porous" defence remains a problem for T&T, and he defended the customary pragmatic approach he's been criticised for.

"Defence is one of the areas we want to strengthen up, but our hands are tied. We can only use the players we have. No matter what combination we play, we always seem to go down 2-0 in the first half and then come back strong in the second half.

"People accuse me of being a defensive coach. But you saw we opened up the game and the reason why is because we were realistic about the players we have and we're more dangerous on the counter-attack as opposed to when we try to play open football. And you saw that again."

Two group B teams will advance to the next round of World Cup qualifying, and with games against the Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis and group favourites Costa Rica still to come, the T&T coach believes his team can get the job done.

Eve also called on the T&T fanbase to keep their unwavering support for the team, and he asked them to display the type of loyalty they show to overseas clubs.

"The same people who are supporting Manchester United are in the stands tonight. They have been losing all season. We didn't lose, we drew the match. Thanks to the fans for coming out and supporting their team."

Eve said he hopes his team will have more cohesion for their second qualifying game against the Bahamas from 5.30 pm on June 8. Another unsatisfactory result can see an early end to the Soca Warriors' dream of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

SOURCE: T&T Newsday