Fri, Mar

Corneal not surprised by early elimination; slams dependence on magic in successive youth tournaments.

It would have come as no surprise to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) Technical Director Anton Corneal that Trinidad and Tobago’s hopes of going to the Under-20 Women’s World Cup came crashing down yesterday evening.

Having lost 2-3 to Haiti in their opening CONCACAF qualifier at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Thursday, the Junior Women Soca Warriors could not get the positive result they needed against Group A favourites Canada, who beat them 4-1 in yesterday’s second outing.

Corneal suggested to Wired868 in an interview between both games that Trinidad and Tobago has been hoping for magic. In vain.

“There is no magic formula; it is only work,” he stressed. “It is time spent on the ball, it is time spent playing games and getting exposure over and over so we could develop all areas of the game. Not just technically and tactically but the mental and physical side of the game also.”

Convinced that the country’s football administrators must be able to move past the mentality of playing from tournament to tournament and map out a long-term development plan for young players, Corneal says that he shares his vision for the game nationally with the relevant coaches—including the ones handling the Under-20 Women.

“I’m in constant discussion with the coaches, especially of the Under-20 team,” Corneal said. “We have had discussions. And right after the game [against Haiti], we had a chat about development. One team was more ready and we discussed why…”

“After [watching] the game [against Haiti],” he added, pointing to the tactical and technical superiority Haiti displayed in the Thursday game, “I thought there were areas that we needed to address and areas which should have been addressed four years ago.”

Although coach Jamaal Shabazz’s charges stormed into a 2-0 lead after only ten minutes against Haiti and again scored in the opening minutes in yesterday’s game against Canada, they never got their passes together in midfield and were guilty of too many errant long balls.

So is there a certain style of football the TD would like to see played consistently in the girls’ football programme? And is there a shared vision?

The only way the two-island republic can maximize the full potential of its burgeoning football talents, the TD is quite certain, is through years of sacrifice, coaching, scouting and diligent work on the training field. Merely continuing to focus on competitions and tournaments, he emphasizes, simply will not get us where we want to be.

“It’s about total development and understanding the game properly,” said Corneal. “It’s about covering the four components of the game, the technique, tactics and mental and physical aspects of the game. And as we grow and we start seeing our strengths and weaknesses and what players we have available to us, then we can decide what’s the best way for us to play to maximize our strengths.”

Corneal pointed out that the Haitian team, now under the watchful eyes of former France youth team coach Marc Collat, have had years of continuous planning and preparation through their Goal Project.

Reiterating his belief that the key period in a player’s development is during the five years from age 12 to 16, the Technical Director suggests that the TTFA would do well to try and emulate their Caribbean counterparts.

“There is some room for growth and growth which has to be done right away […] in order to close the gap,” he said. “We have to realize the importance of what we do outside of tournaments and not just (when we are in) tournament mode.

“When we are out of a tournament, there is so much work to be done after a tournament […]. I think [that game] gave us a clear idea into the type of preparation that a team like Haiti would have done and why they are now reaping the rewards.”

He zeroed in on where he thought the real problem lay.

“Anytime you address the Under-20 team, we are really looking at a development process from five to six years before,” he explained. “And that’s the golden learning age of a player, from 12 to 16 years old. If we don’t address it properly there, we will not get the players to their true potential. And that affected us and I think it will continue to affect us.

“We first have to decide how much we are willing to sacrifice when the players are younger and [recognize] the type of work that needs to be done, the concentrated type of work that needs to be done.”

There are two 16-year-olds in the current Under-20 set-up in the persons of defender Nathifa Hackshaw and lively attacker Aaliyah Prince. Only two years ago, both girls were members of a Trinidad and Tobago team which went to the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship in Orlando.

How does Corneal think these girls have adapted themselves to the demands of Under-20 football?

“I am not one of the staff members on the team so to make a comment like that will be ill-advised of me,” Corneal told Wired868. “What I could say is that I’m happy certain players were able to close the gap from the Under-17s to Under-20s. It’s good when you see a few players could do it […]

“Our way of addressing this is the National Elite Youth Program with 12-, 13- and 14-year-old girls from all the zones coming together to do a little more concentrated work so we could address these problems now.”

There is already a girls’ National Elite Youth Program (NEYP), which has Marlon Charles—Shabazz’s Under-20 team assistant—as head coach and Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Senior Team winger Ahkeela Mollon as one of its coaches. Corneal says that the response to the NEYP has been decent up to now but he would still like to see a strengthening of the player involvement on the girls’ side of things.

“I’ll be guessing here but the Elite Youth Program will have about 50 to 60 players coming out from the zones,” he said. “The zones fluctuate with the number of players and the age-group fluctuates [as well] because, as I said, we don’t have a lot of girls playing.”

So is there a plan to address this, to get more girls involved in football from the grassroots level right up to national team level?

“One of the ways we have been doing it is in the primary schools,” said Corneal. “There is a grassroots programme that is going to be done every Wednesday where we will try to target as many as 2,000 kids between the ages of nine and ten. We have made it compulsory that half must be boys and half must be girls.

“Let’s grow the number of young girls playing the game and, hopefully through the primary schools, we will get a growth right there.”

The Senior Women’s Team narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2015 Women’s World Cup after falling to Ecuador in a play-off on home soil. Now, another Women’s World Cup is just one year away. Is there any plan to phase new players into the team so that there will be no problem when some of the core players withdraw from international duty?

Corneal recalled that years of persistent attention and scrutiny had gone into the development of key players such as Mollon, Maylee Attin-Johnson, Kennya Cordner and Tasha St Louis.

“We have some girls coming through but of course I would like it to be more,” Corneal said. “That era of players, they were part of good long-term development. A lot of time was put in with those players many years ago and a lot of them blossomed to become quite competent players.

“We just have to make sure that we put in that development to make sure that we have players continuously going through the programme and we would be able to get them to their fullest potential.”

He suggested that there was some confusion about what the real goals of the different age-group programmes are.

“You are not producing a player for the Under-17 or Under-20 level,” he said, “you are producing a national player. You are aiming to produce a national senior player and he or she should be able to produce for many years.”

The National Elite Young Program aside, Corneal reckons that the TTFA plans for additional training pitches and dormitories at the Ato Boldon Stadium site put the country on the right path to future player development.

“We could have more than one national youth team […] or more than one elite team training on the day,” Corneal said. “That can be our way of bringing them together and this goes for both girls and boys. […] That is something we probably should have had 15 years ago. But everything happens in its time.

“It takes patience and it takes planning. Or it takes planning and it takes patience. We are working on a plan and we have to wait and see what will happen in the next three to four years.”


“The girls played their heart out!” Shabazz praises U-20’s effort as they bow out after third loss.
By Amiel Mohammed (Wired868).

For the third time in six days, Trinidad and Tobago’s Junior Women Soca Warriors scored first in a first round match during the CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship at the Ato Boldon Stadium. That’s the good news.

For the third time in six days, Trinidad and Tobago’s Junior Women Soca Warriors suffered defeat, failing to hold onto a lead in their final Group A encounter against Costa Rica and therefore waving a low-key goodbye to the tournament. That is by no means good news.

In front of a significantly smaller crowd than was the case in their first two games, the Jamaal Shabazz-coached women fell 2-1 to a Costa Rican outfit that fielded as many as eight new faces in their starting line-up.

If the tactic worked for Costa Rica, for Haiti, who went with nine changes to their starting line-up, it backfired. They were comprehensively beaten 4-0 by Group toppers Canada in the earlier match of the double-header.

Coach Shabazz was proud of his players’ effort but once again bemoaned their inability to convert a lead into victory.

“I think the girls played their heart out tonight and [I’m] very satisfied that they gave of their best,” Shabazz told the media at the post-match briefing. “We know we’ve got to make a better preparation going forward and try to prepare a team that can be more intense in the battles.

“We have to become a nation that when the hard times come, we show more resilience. We’ve got to improve the battles on the training pitch and in doing so, it can transform on the field.

“I think that the girls gave a great account of themselves tonight […] (It was) unfortunate that we had to go down because of a penalty.”

Within seconds of entering the pitch at the start of the second half, substitute Fabiola Villalobos won and converted a penalty conceded by the once more largely impressive K’lil Keshwar in the T&T goal.

Racing to dispute possession of a ball with Villalobos, Keshwar failed to make any contact with the ball and clattered into the Costa Rican attacker. Villalobos appealed successfully to United States referee Ekaterina Koroleva for a penalty, picked herself up off the ground and calmly put the ball past Keshwar from the spot.

Shabazz is not certain that that is what should have happened.

“I am not one to complain about the referees,” he said, “(but) tonight I wish I was a FIFA referee. […] I feel sorry for my young ladies tonight. […] I think that we have been very unfortunate with some decisions…”

The penalty put the wind in the sails of the Costa Ricans, who went in search of a winner and got it from the feet of tricky attacker Hillary Corrales.

Corrales had started on the bench in the previous match versus Haiti but had come on to score and put a mighty scare into their French–speaking opponents before her side eventually held out for the 3-2 win.

Getting the start against the hosts, though, Corrales merely kicked on from where she had left off, taking full advantage of a laid-back T&T side who were very charitable with acreage on the pitch.

In the 55th minute, capitalising on a deflected header by Sheneika Paul, the unmarked Corrales stole in, beat Keshwar to the ball at the back post and contrived to flick it around the giant keeper, leaving the recovering defenders pressing in vain to clear the attempt off the goal-line.

Alongside captain and Player-of-the-Match Gloriana Villalobos, Corrales had T&T firmly on the backfoot from the first whistle. They were, however, hit with a sucker punch in the 37th minute when, with their first sequence of meaningful possession, the hosts opened the scoring.

Ranae Ward set the overlapping Jaasiel Forde free down the right and she played an incisive lofted pass into the path of hotshot attacker Dennecia Prince. With her first touch, she made a yard of space for herself and then coolly placed the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs.

It was as deft and as clinical a finish as they come.

The item was Prince’s second goal of the tournament and Shabazz certainly sees a bright future for his young attacker if she can maintain her progress.

“She has had some explosive moments,” said Shabazz. “You can see a player that, with a lot more fitness, a higher level of fitness achieved, […] is […] ready to graduate to the senior team.”

While Prince (D) may have been the decisive player in the game, it was her namesake and partner-in-crime Aaliyah Prince and Keshwar who caught the eye of Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde.

“It’s (T&T) a very balanced team as well as there are many strong players that are the reference of the team,” Valverde told the media after the match. For example, the goalkeeper (Keshwar), she has a very good form and also the number 10 (Aliyah Prince) is very impressive.”

At the end of the narrow 3-2 loss to Haiti on Saturday, Valverde had announced that, in the final game versus T&T, she would be offering playing time to some of her younger players and hoped that they would seize the opportunity to finish the tournament strongly.

At the end of the 90 minutes on Monday, she was pleased with what she had seen.

“We saw that the changes we made were very coherent and the players were able to adjust,” said Valverde. “This game was very tight but we had the goal of knowing that we were not able to qualify (but) we still wanted to win this game. This victory helps us to wash (away) what happened on Saturday.”

Saturday’s Group A encounter between Marc Collat’s Haiti team and Costa Rica had seen a tenacious, aggressive Haitian team taking the fight to their opponents. Against the Canadians yesterday, however, that description was furthest from the truth.

Fielding only Ruthny Mathurin and Tabita K. Joseph from among the starters in the previous game, Haiti were a mere shadow of their true selves and Canada tore into them from the first whistle.

With experienced captain Gabby Carle restored to her starting berth after being rested versus T&T, the North Americans threatened to run away with the game in the first half as a Shana Flynn hattrick left the Haitians reeling 0-3 down within the first 18 minutes.

Although tournament leading goal-scorer Jordyn Huitema couldn’t get her name on the scoresheet, she was involved in everything good that her team did.

She set up Flynn to tap in the opener on the second attempt. Flynn followed that up with an excellent arching shot into the top corner two minutes later before rounding out her hattrick in the 18th minute.

Collat’s introduction of his 15-year-old starlet Daelle Dumonay in the second half brought some much-needed direction and fight to the Haitians. However, when substitute Tanya Boychuk headed home Canada’s fourth after an error by goalkeeper Naphtaline Clermeus, the result was done and dusted and the final standings settled with Canada at the top.

Collat’s team selection—and, arguably, the manner in which they approached the game—seemed to indicate that Haiti’s clear priority was their semi-final match up against whichever of Mexico or the USA runs out winner in the other group.

The final first round matches come off today. With Canada and Haiti having already qualified for the next round before kick-off yesterday, the Group B sides will now know precisely which of the two they will be up against if they win. It might inspire both teams in the second encounter at 6.30pm when the USA play Mexico.

Before that at 4pm, the heartbroken Jamaican outfit, who were mere minutes away from registering their first point of the tournament versus USA, will face Nicaragua as both teams bid the competition au revoir.