Sat, Jul
Match Report
Trinidad & Tobago Cuba
T&T flag Cuba
Stern John (18')

Concacaf Gold Cup Qualifier
2003-03-30Manny Ramjohn StadiumMarabella, Trinidad and Tobago5000

Soca Worriers face the music

Bruised egos, busted heads and battered limbs. Player selection, preparation, heart and fair play.
The Trinidad and Tobago national football team dressing room must have seemed more like an Iraqi hospital ward than a haven for the Caribbeans top players last Sunday night.

Eighteen men plus technical staff entered the decisive CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying match against Cuba at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella as the “Soca Warriors”.

They ended as “Soca Worriers” following an emphatic 3-1 loss.

The result followed an academic 2-0 Guadeloupe win over Antigua and Barbuda which decided the final placing of the group’s “also rans”.

But technical director Hannibal Najjar felt like a loser himself as he lamented being forced to play in another qualifying series within three weeks’ time against Honduras and Martinique, from which two teams will progress to the July Gold Cup finals in Mexico and the United States.

Najjar was already bracing for a club versus country battle with Pro League and foreign clubs.

Not suprisingly, he extended an olive branch to the 19 locals who were initially banned by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) for their protest over training conditions and subsequently overlooked for the qualifying series.

“With the conclusion of this qualifier,” he said, “I would be eager to consider for selection all local nationals.”

Star striker Stern John, who wore the captain’s armband for two of the three qualifiers, was also feeling the aftershocks.

The back of John’s head was shaved and crudely decorated with plasters as a result of a clash with a Cuban defender during Sunday’s match.

John was fed up of hurting—physically and otherwise—for little international gain.

He offered a statement to the media that could not be mistaken for a vote of confidence in his own technical staff.

“We need someone with experience,” he said, “(who has) the ability to educate, organise and direct our young players for us to reach our fullest potential.

“We hope our organisers will place utmost importance on finding such a person.”

The next month or so would be crucial for Najjar, who accepted the post of technical director last October after the resignation of Brazilian Rene Simoes and abrupt replacements of subsequent caretakers, Clayton Morris and Jamaal Shabazz.

“I believe I am still the best person for the job,” said Najjar yesterday. “I am not threatened at this stage by (the thought of being sacked). Quite frankly, it is not anywhere in the major issues of my mind.

“But if it comes, it comes.”

By his own admission, though, he was at least partially responsible for the Warriors’ abject performance against the Cubans.

“I was out-coached, we were out-prepared and out-played,” he said. “It’s a fact that we were beaten in terms of fitness as well.

“We were comprehensively beaten by a team that was better than us in every department on game day.”

Najjar would hope that it was not his eulogy. Like all such massive blows, he never saw it coming.

It was T&T who struck first in a game they needed to win.

Cuba had looked brighter in the opening 15 minutes but the hosts were celebrating in the 18th after John rose to neatly head home his third goal in as many matches from a Carlos Edwards corner kick.

It proved a false dawn for the Warriors, who had hardly set the stands alight in their earlier wins against Antigua-Barbuda and Guadeloupe.

John admitted that the team was nervous in the dressing room before kick off.

“Everybody was so quiet,” he said. “I told them that I hoped it was the quiet before the storm...”

Cue Hurricane Cuba.

Untested for much of the tournament, goalkeeper Selwyn George made a hash of a straightforward Silvio Pedro free kick in the 25th minute and was fortunate to see Maykel Galindos follow up sail over the bar.

It was a sign of uncertainty from the red-shirted team and the more expressive Cubans quickly seized the opportunity.

The pint-sized Jorge Ramirez, one of four under-20 players in the visiting starting line-up, had a go—a minute later—and George was clawing at the air as the ball whizzed past him and into the top right hand corner.

Thereafter, the Cubans frustrated the hosts by fair and foul means. Twice, referee Gavin James reached to his shirt pocket to penalise time-wasting, while there was also a booking for a clumsy Pedro headbutt on John and persistent tugging by Cuban midfielder Liban Perez.

The Warriors had no response.

“We were being outmuscled by some pygmy-sized boys,” said Najjar, “and we did nothing about it. We did not even receive a yellow card.”

Najjar introduced highly-rated Falkirk striker Collin Samuel in the 72nd minute for disappointing left sided midfielder Hayden Fitzwilliams.

Within seconds, though, the situation was more desperate as Cuban striker Lester More lashed past George on the break after a Ramirez feed.

A slip by Dwayne Demmin let in Galindo for Cubas third goal and the die was cast.

By then, Najjar had five forwards on the pitch—Devon Mitchell and Andre Toussaint joined Samuel—and the coach, an ex-St Mary’s College striker, might have fancied a run himself.

A firm John header was tipped onto the crossbar by opposing goalie Alexis Reve in the dying minutes, but the spectators were already streaming towards the exit in resignation.

Then came the pain.

Najjar showered praises on the Cubans but pointed out that he had not been allowed to properly prepare his team, while he felt the referee had allowed too much gamesmanship.

He bemoaned the absence of several top local players as well, while complaining that several highly-rated foreigners—Samuel and the injured Evans Wise were fingered—had not lived up to their hype.

Ultimately, though, he was responsible.

“What I thought I had done to motivate them...” he said, “maybe I came up short”.

John expressed his own concern about the absence of players like Vibe CT 105 W Connection playmaker Arnold Dwarika, as well as in the preparation of the team before and during the competition.

“Three games in a week is plenty football,” he said. “But the sessions between games killed us. Even on Sunday morning we trained for an hour in the hot sun at Moka.

“I think the guys just did not have the legs.”

They have roughly three weeks in which to find them before Honduras and Martinique attempt another assault on their battered troops.

John, who plies his trade with relegation-threatened English Premier League team Birmingham City, is uncertain whether he would be allowed to return.

It was yet another reason for the Warriors to worry.

1.Selwyn George
4.Subbed outMarvin Andrews
 Subbed in 46' Devon Mitchell
2.Craig Demmin
16.Dwayne Demmin
6.Subbed outAvery John
 Subbed in 83' Andre Toussaint
3.Dennis Lawrence
7.Carlos Edwards
18.Subbed outHayden Fitzwilliams
 Subbed in 69' Collin Samuel
12.Brent Rahim
14.Stern John (capt.)
11.Jason Scotland
 Devon Mitchell
9.Collin Samuel
11.Andre Toussaint
21.Marlon Sylvester
5.Anton Pierre
 Kurt Williams
7.Evans Wise
 Hannibal Najjar
46'Subbed outSubbed inDevon Mitchell for Marvin Andrews
69'Subbed outSubbed inCollin Samuel for Hayden Fitzwilliams
83'Subbed outSubbed inAndre Toussaint for Avery John