Sun, Apr

T&T Zoe Maxwell, centre, battle for possession against Mexico’s Kiana Palacios, left, and Nicole Perez during the Concacaf Women's Gold Cup qualifier at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo on Tuesday. - Photo by Daniel Prentice

Trinidad and Tobago's campaign in the 2024 Concacaf women's Gold Cup qualifiers came to an end on Tuesday night, as the host team fell 1-0 to group winners Mexico at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo. T&T finished at the bottom of the three-team League A group with a solitary point after losing three of their four matches.

Mexico ended the group with a perfect 12 points and booked their spot in the Gold Cup. Puerto Rico finished second on four points and will advance to the Gold Cup preliminary round.

T&T gave a much-improved effort from the 6-0 loss they suffered away to Mexico in Pachuca in September, but a gem of a long-range effort by defender Cristina Ferral settled the match in the 40th minute and broke the stubborn resistance of the hosts.

Needing an unlikely four-goal win to book a spot in the Gold Cup prelims, T&T showed their intent from the opening whistle as coach Richard Hood sought to get on the front foot with a 4-4-2 formation which saw the pair of Asha James and Tsaianne Leander starting in attack. Hood asked his team to be braver in possession, and they did string passes together in the early stages. However, the Mexicans quickly assumed control of the game as they looked for the opening item.

The centre-back pairing of Shaunalee Govia and Victoria Swift were solid for T&T as the hosts were pushed back into a low block. Zoe Maxwell was composed in possession in the middle of the park and goalkeeper Simone Eligon was again impressive between the uprights with several fine saves.

Overall, Hood was pleased with his team's improved defensive showing.

"I was satisfied with the efforts from the team and satisfied with the organisation. I am not so much satisfied with the offensive part, as I thought we struggled to keep the ball," Hood said in the post-match briefing.

"I am happy with the performance and the effort from the younger girls. I thought the real purpose for me in this game was to keep demonstrating the improvements (we have made), and I think we did that."

With the T&T defence holding firm in the first half, Mexico were reduced to shots from long range. However, they could not quite find their radar early as efforts by Jimena Lopez and attacker Jacqueline Ovalle went over Eligon's goal. Ovalle tried to catch the T&T custodian napping with a cheeky free kick in the 31st minute, but her left-footed attempt drifted just wide of the post.

The 23-year-old Eligon, who was named to the Concacaf League A Best XI for the October window, commanded her area as she plucked a number of dangerous crosses out of the air. However, just before halftime, Ferral beat the T&T goalie with a ferocious long-range drive which whistled into the top corner.

"Simone has been magnificent. She has come up big for us in each of the (three) games she has played. She was a little nervous in her first game against Puerto Rico but that is understandable. International football is a completely different kettle of fish."

In the second half, Eligon made at least two jaw-dropping saves. She made a brilliant stop to deny an effort by Kiana Palacios in the 49th minute, while her personal battle with Ovalle continued in the 63rd minute as the T&T goalie stretched low to her left to push a firm drive wide of the post.

"Our understanding of the tactical requirements of the game — offensively and defensively — was good. I thought we did a really good job of nullifying the Mexicans' attack quite a bit."

In attack, T&T mustered just three shots in the game, two of which came from the boot of the tireless Maria-Frances Serrant. In the 90th minute, Serrant got the T&T supporters hopeful as her miscued shot from outside the area went agonisingly shy of goalkeeper Itzel Gonzalez's bar. It was the closest T&T came to troubling the Mexican goalie.

"We were not great offensively, but it is a work in progress. It is something we have to keep continuously working on with the girls. It is important for us to maintain continuity where the local girls are concerned and we have to monitor those who are abroad as well."

Hood said support is on its way to the Women Warriors, and he was reassured of such by Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis, who visited the team in the locker room after the encounter.

"Minister Cudjoe-Lewis indicated the ministry is very much willing to back the women's programme to the same level of monetary (contributions) from Concacaf. She asked us to make proposals and we are going to do that. It is critical for the women's programme."

Hood said it is imperative for the TT Football Association (TTFA) to ensure the programme does not go dormant like it has in the past, as it is the "beginning of the project." He said preparations cannot solely begin two months before a major regional tournament. He said, "We must never get back to the level where we met the programme when we started in July this year."