After witnessing the first 20 minutes of the contest against Mexico, it would have been difficult to recognise the difference between the two teams. Maybe it was the most electrifying atmosphere that these young “Trinis” have experienced.
Our minds could easily have endorsed the realism with which coach Dennis Lawrence have progressed with the national team.
Mexico also had a similar opinion as they struggled to retain their usual chemistry in midfield because the speed, skill and mobility of Joevin Jones, Khaleem Hyland and Kevin Molino may well have been much more than Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio expected.
Initially, my observations were focused upon any adjustments to the errors from Friday’s game, and after ten minutes, the picture was positively different.
It was a joy to see the mixture of combination by the high profile players in the home team.
How wonderful it was to witness the coordination among the four defenders, their choices of passes and the changed approach of wanting to just make short passes within the vicinity of 40 metres from their goal-keeper Jan-Michael Williams.
This adjustment surely forced the Mexican midfield to think defensively and more so to make the long diagonal passes, from their own defense area, a pattern which they use when under pressure.
Once again the initiative by the local players was clearly gaining attention especially when the Jones duo, Joevin and Kenwyne, connected beautifully with the natural talents of the Mucurapo alumnis, Hyland and Molino.
The contest became so intense that neither team entered the penalty areas and created easy chances. They exchanged strategies in centre field and left too much room for any team to control for long.
Mexico’s patience was based upon the fact that they were not allowed luxuries of ball possession in the first half and were bothered by some swift moving forwards.
No doubt, the aggression and penetrative efforts by Cordell Cato and Joevin Jones created discomfort to the point that the Mexicans decided to play the ball in the opponents half of the field.
This caused the Warriors to have to make eight or nine passes to their opponents’ goal, a factor which brought them to the half time whistle without conceding a goal.
The discussions during the interval would have been targeted at getting victory.
Dennis Lawrence must have evaluated the Mexicans during the first half and so did the visitors to the home team.
Maybe the T&T camp was asked to increase the commitment, force the “Ole” squad to have more work than they had done previously.
Quietly, tactical second half changes by Mexico made a significant difference and with the wind behind their backs, they moved into a 4-4-2 system, stretched their passes through and over the physical capabilities of Hyland, Molino and Kevan George.
This created an unfamiliar pattern, with substitutes Carlos Velo and Gallardo joining Layun being instructed to attack through Mekeil Williams, a factor which needed some more defensive bodies for the Warriors.
The central defenders, both of whom were excellent for the better part of the game, were faced with two extra attacking players with the ability to take on opponents with consummate ease.
They held position in T&T half of the field, created four wonderful efforts, three of which were brilliantly saved by Williams, until a corner which Mexico had deliberately sent forward central defender Diego Reyes.
He casually started his run from outside the penalty area and rushed accurately into a space which was left by six defenders, placing a header into the top corner for the only goal of the match.
Not even the presence of Jamille Boatswain and Willis Plaza could have made an impact in the goal scoring department, as Mexico, with their bits of strategy and time wasting, played the possession game in T&T’s half of the field.
It is unfair to even believe that the Warriors did not play in the manner that coach Lawrence wanted, but when teams change strategy during a match, that is when the experience of players has to be crucial.
Admittedly, the only truly spot was the powerful strike from Joevin Jones which rocketed into the top corner of the net, but was surprisingly discarded by the assistant referee whose position at the time of his decision should not have allowed him to make the decision.
However, at the same time, only persons who were in line which could have provided the proof of the decision.
Nevertheless, have you ever seen a referee change his mind because of calls from the fans? Not even close.
Good defensive players, with proof of only conceding one goal, midfielders having over 40 per cent of possession, and attackers who caused the number 17 ranked football country in the world to change their pattern of play twice during the event in order to force a close victory.
That is with great effort.
Congratulations to Mexico and the Warriors have left us all with the feeling that our path to Russia is still very much possible.