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Central FC must pick up the Trinidad and Tobago fight in Santiago after W Connection made a crashing exit in the 2018 Caribbean Club Championship, the region’s qualifying tournament to the Concacaf Champions League and Concacaf League.

Connection were defeated 3-0 by Dominican Republic’s Atlético Pantoja who advanced as Group A leaders on Sunday night at the Ato Boldon Stadium and will be joined by Jamaica’s Arnett Gardens at the 2018 Caribbean finals in May.

Arnett Gardens had earlier improved their chances of qualifying for the final round with a 4-0 hammering of Haiti’s Real Hope Football Academy courtesy a second-half hat-trick and assist from former San Juan Jabloteh playmaker Fabien Reid at the Couva venue.

But multiple-time former champions Connection, needing just a draw against the Dominicans to advance, produced a shambolic performance and succumbed to their second loss of the campaign.

Luis Espinal and Armando Maita cushioned Pantoja within a space of three minutes midway through the first half before Juan Carlos López converted from the penalty spot in the second half to put the match out of Connection’s reach.

Pantoja finished on seven points, three ahead of Arnett Gardens, while Connection ended on three points and only ahead of bottom-placed Real Hope by goal-difference.

Two-time former Caribbean champions Central FC, left to fly the T&T flag in the tournament, are to compete withJamaica’s Portmore United (Feb. 7), Haiti’s Racing FC (Feb. 9) and hosts Atlantico (Feb. 11) in Group B at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

“We were too inconsistent,” conceded W Connection head coach Stuart Charles Fevrier afterwards. “(…) especially in the first half. We also allowed two soft goals in the first half. Then we made a silly error in conceding a soft penalty. It was the final nail in the coffin for us. I knew then it was hard to come back.”

Connection fell behind on 27 minutes after ex-star forward Jonathon Fana’s lifted pass into the box was met by Espinal who fired past goalkeeper Julani Archibald from close range to put Pantoja 1-0 in front against the hosts.

The Savonetta Boys’ defence seemed absent again three minutes later when Espinal, involved in both other goals, turned provider by volleying a deep diagonal cross back across the box for Maita to slam home his third goal of the tournament past a hapless Archibald from the middle of the area to give Pantoja a 2-0 cushion.

Fevrier had only a minute before tossed in midfielder Kevon Goddard at the expense of Kadeem Corbin, one of four forwards started, to try to solidify Connection’s porous display in the middle.

“It was a tactical change,” the Connection coach insisted. “We needed to tighten the midfield and we definitely showed improvement in our play in the second half, but giving away the penalty made it even more difficult for us at three goals down.”

Connection were lucky not to concede as early as five minutes played when Quintero, free in the box, spilled overbar following a linkup between Maita and Espinal.

The hosts were also lucky not to have captain Alvin Jones sent off five minutes before the break after shoving Yefferson Moreira in an out of play incident when the Pantoja left-back tried to slow the Trinidad and Tobago international’s retrieval of the ball. Moreira theatrically went to ground with his face in his hands but Guyana fourth official Gladwyn Johnson had ringside view of the incident and Jones was only cautioned with a yellow card from Costa Rican referee Juan Gabriel Calderon.

Connection, though, would fall further behind when López fired in Pantoja’s third and final item from the penalty spot in the 65th minute for the 3-0 score.

Marcus Joseph, who first gave away possession in the middle of his own half, upended Espinal inside the box in a desperate attempt to make up for his mistake but instead forced Calderon to point to the spot.

Joseph, who had put Pantoja goalkeeper Odalis Baez into action twice in the first half, tried to redeem himself in the 83rd minute his third shot from distance on the night fly overbar. He tried another from distance – his fourth on the night – a minute from time but only got as close as troubling the top of the netting.

Jones also tried testing Baez from distance with two earlier tries, but, like Joseph’s last attempt, the Connection’s captain’s efforts were inches off target.

“We only have ourselves to blame,” continued Fevrier. “We let down ourselves and let down the country as well. After the first two games we should have already qualified. Had we drawn the first game (against Real Hope) we would have qualified on head-to-head.”

Despite challenges in preparations and finding player personnel after losing some of his top players of last season, Fevrier believes Connection had no excuse.

“We should have qualified with the team we have,” he said. “But now we have to learn from this and look towards next season’s (Caribbean Club Championship) which we have already qualified for [along with last season’s Pro League champions North East Stars].”

In the earlier game, Arnett Gardens flexed their muscles in the final half hour with Reid breaking the deadlock from the middle of the box in the 65th minute when he got on the end of a Marvin Morgan feed.

Reid followed up with three more attempts, including a wonderful save Odelus Louis Valendi to put the Arnett Gardens forward’s shot off the upright, before beating the Real Hope goalie from the spot in the 86th minute for his second penalty goal of the tournament to cushion the Jamaicans.

Reid later turned provider with a low cross from the left for substitute Leon Strickland to bury past a hapless Valendi for Gardens third goal on 90 minutes.

Reid then completed his hat-trick and the 4-0 rout with his fifth goal of the tournament in the second minute of stoppage time, turning unchallenged in the box to hook a left side Morgan feed past Valendi.

Morgan, although brilliantly involved for three of his team’s goals, should have had his name on the scoresheet five minutes earlier after combining superbly with Reid, but drilled his attempt inches wide of the upright.

In the end, however, Arnett Gardens had done enough to earn passage through the Caribbean finals along with Atletico Pantoja. There they will collide with the top two teams of Group B.

The overall Caribbean champions will earn the regions berth at the 2019 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, while the runner-up and third place finishers will qualify for the 2018 Scotiabank CONCACAF League.

The fourth-place side will face the winner of the Tier 2 tournament -- Caribbean Club Shield -- in a playoff to determine the third club that will represent the Caribbean in the 2018 Scotiabank CONCACAF League.  The Tier 2 champion, however, must comply with the minimum CONCACAF Club Licensing requirements to secure participation. 

Concacaf Caribbean Club Championship 2018
Group A (Trinidad) results
Wednesday 31 January 2018

Club Atletico Pantoja 0 vs Arnett Gardens 0, at Ato Boldon Stadium;

W Connection 0 vs Real Hope Football Academy 1 (Jeudy Johnson 2’), at Ato Boldon Stadium.

Friday, February 2, 2018
Real Hope FA 0 vs Atletico Pantoja 3 (Luis Espinal 35’, Armando Maita 40’, 59’), at Ato Boldon Stadium.

W Connection 2 (Marcus Joseph 2’, 13) vs Arnett Gardens 1 (Fabien Reid 61’ pen.), at Ato Boldon Stadium. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018
Arnett Gardens FC 4 (Fabien Reid 65’, 86’ pen., 90’+2, Leon Strickland 90’) v Real Hope FA 0, 5pm, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, Trinidad;

W Connection FC 0 v Club Atletico Pantoja 3 (Luis Espinal 27’, Armando Maita 30’, Juan Carlos López 65’ pen.), 8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, Trinidad.


Upcoming
Group B (Dominican Republic)
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Central FC (T&T) v Portmore United FC (JAM), 5pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic;

Atlantico FC (DOM) v Racing FC (HAI), 8pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Friday, February 9, 2018
Racing FC (HAI) v Central FC (T&T), 5pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic;

Atlantico FC (DOM) v Portmore United FC (JAM), 8pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Sunday, February 11, 2018
Portmore United FC (JAM) v Racing FC (HAI), 5pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic;

Atlantico FC (DOM) v Central FC (TRI), 8pm, Estadio Cibao, Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Teams at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Friday
Game 1
Arnett Gardens:
40.Damion Hyatt (GK); 3.Lennox Russell (27.Steve Clarke 64th minute), 5.Renae Lloyd (Yellow Card), 8.Vishinul Harris (33.Leon Strickland 29th minute), 9.Marvin Morgan, 11.Kemal Malcolm (7.Jason Moore 61st minute), 12.Jabeur Johnson, 13.Fabien Reid, 17.Kenniel Hyde, 19.Tamar Edwards, 20.Oneil Thompson (Capt.). 

Unused substitutes: 15.Ranike Anderson, 16.Jamar Martin, 26.Ricardo Oldham, 55.Shamarley Clayton (GK).

Coach: Jerome Waite

Real Hope FA: 1.Odelus Louis Valendi (GK); 3.Bissainthe Bicou, 4.Edmund Patrick (Yellow Card), 6.Dunel Blaise (Capt.) (Yellow Card), 9.Ronaldo Damus (12.Exavier Naldory Joseph Rams 76th minute), 10.Jeudy Johnson, 14.Wendy St. Felix (20.Cineus Renel 32nd minute), 15.Denilson Pierre, 19.Marc Andre Jean Baptiste (7.Nerlin St. Vil 46th minute), 22.Jean Jackinto. 24.Fardyson Pierre (Yellow Card).

Unused substitutes: 2.Paul Fernandes, 16.Vertus Wolf, 23.Philippe Junior Toussaint, 35.Max Djivenel Fleuricien (GK).

Coach: Sonche Pierre 

Officials
Referee: Oscar Marcias (MEX)
Assistant Referee 1: Michael Barwegen (CAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Henry Pupiro (NCA)
Fourth Official: Reon Radix (GRE) 
Referee Assessor: Jaggernath Goolcharan (TRI)
Match Commissioner: Egbert Lacle (ARU) 

Game 2
W Connection: 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 2.Kurt Frederick, 3.Gerard Williams, 5.Triston Hodge, 7.Akeem Garcia (17.Jevaughn Humphrey 62nd minute), 9.Kadeem Corbin (6.Kevon Goddard 28th minute), 10.Dimitri Apai, 15.Jesus Perez, 16.Alvin Jones (Capt.) (Yellow Card), 19.Briel Thomas, 99.Marcus Joseph.

Unused substitutes: 33.Jason Belfon (GK); 8.Jameel Antoine, 14.Quinn Rodney, 23.Kennedy Hinkson, 26.Isaiah Garcia.

Coach: Stuart Charles Fevrier 

Club Atletico Pantoja: 23.Odalis Baez (GK); 3.Pedro Muñoz (Yellow Card), 4.Yefferson Moreira, 7.Luis Espinal, 8.Jesus Quintero (9.Darly Batista 81st minute), 13.Jean Walnes Innocent, 14.Jean Carlos López, 17.Armando Maita (15.Danny Guillen 87th minute), 20.Jonathan Faña (16.Robert Rosado 77th minute), 21.Nicolas Rebollo (Capt.), 32.Eduardo Centeno.

Unused substitutes: 1.Wisaldy Rivera (GK); 10.Leandro Silva, 18.Brian Calabrese, 28.Ronaldo Vasquez.

Coach: Lenin Jose Bastidas Bello

Officials
Referee: Juan Gabriel Calderon (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Kevin Stephens (GUY)
Assistant Referee 2: Iroots Appleton (ATG)
Fourth Official: Gladwyn Johnson (GUY)
Referee Assessor: Omario Contreras (BLZ)
Match Commissioner: Glenn Etienne (DMA)


Originally published on ttproleague.com

RELATED NEWS

‘We only have ourselves to blame’
By Sherdon Pierre (Newsday).


W Connection will not be progressing to the final round of the FLOW CONCACAF Caribbean Club Championship after they were clobbered 3-0 by Dominican Republic’s Club Atletico Pantoja at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Sunday.

Jamaica’s Arnett Gardens booked the second qualifying spot after they crushed Haiti’s Real Hope FA 4-0 to finish second in Group A.

W Connection, needing a positive result, gambled by leaving out Kevon Goddard – arguably their best midfielder in the tournament – and started a combination of four strikers. Club Atletico Pantoja sought to make use of some inside intel from former W Connection player Johnathon Faña Frías who got his first start of the tournament.

Both teams only needed a draw to qualify for the final round but came out in attack mode with both goalkeepers called into action in the first 20 minutes.

The Dominican Republic team broke the deadlock in the 27th minute when Frías slipped a ball through to Luis Espinal who calmly slotted it past Connection’s goalkeeper Archibald for the 1-0 lead. The visitors doubled their lead in the 30th when Armando Maita finished smartly after a well measured pass from Espinal.

Jean Carlos Lopez put the result beyond doubt in the 64th when he stepped up and scored from the penalty spot after Joseph fouled Espinal in the penalty area.

Staring an early exit, the Savonetta Boys played their best football of the game by pressing for the goals but it was too late as the game the former Caribbean champions were booted out.

A disappointed W Connection head coach Stuart Charles Fevrier said, “We were too inconsistent especially in the first half. We also allowed two soft goals in the first half, then we made a silly error in conceding a soft penalty. It was the final nail in the coffin for us. I knew then it was hard to come back.”

The St Lucian declared, “We only have ourselves to blame, we let down ourselves and let down the country as well. After the first two games, we should have already qualified. Had we drawn the first game (against Real Hope) we would have qualified on head-to-head.”

In the previous game, Fabien Reid scored a second- half hat-trick and registered an assist to give his team Arnett Gardens a well-deserved 4-0 victory over Haiti’s Real Hope FA. After a goalless first half, the game burst into life in the second period. Arnett Gardens opened the scoring in the 65th minute through Reid and in the 85th minute Reid scored his second penalty of the tournament to make it 2-0.

In the last minute of regulation time, the Jamaicans scored their third when Reid set-up Leon Strickland for a goal. Then, the former San Juan Jabloteh player Reid rounded off the scoring in the 92nd to complete the 4-0 drubbing.