Sun, Jun
Match Report
Panama Trinidad & Tobago
Panama T&T flag
 Stern John (61')

FIFA World Cup™ Qualifier
2005-10-08Estadío Rommel FernandezPanama City, Panama1000

T&T picks up a vital win against Panama

Match of the Day. Costa Rica was certain to qualify, Mexico certain to beat Guatemala. But this one could go either way. Could T&T, with everything at stake, get three points on the road? How great was the pride of the Panamanians? It was the match all true CONCACAF fans wanted to see.

Which meant, of course, it was the one they couldn’t. Unless you lived in Trinidad & Tobago yourself, no TV, not live, not tape, not Internet. Your humble correspondent opted for the T&T radio broadcast, with announcers in a studio calling the game from a live feed. Which would have been OK, if they hadn’t been in a parallel universe. They kept announcing plays by Felipe Baloy (suspended, not in the stadium) and Luís Tejada (with his club in the United Arab Emirates, not even in the same country). And they repeatedly named such noted Panamanians as Walter Centeno and Rónald Gómez, who at that moment were as usual playing up north for Costa Rica. It was almost a relief when the feed cut out near the end of the first half--eventually we would have heard about DaMarcus Beasley and Jared Borgetti, if not actually David Beckham.

But in a way you could hardly blame them. The Panama team on the pitch was unrecognizable. Out of the competition and looking to experiment, they started only four regulars: Jaime Penedo, Luís Moreno, Gabriel Gómez, and Julio Medina. The rest were youngsters, and I mean youngsters. Gabriel Torres, currently fourth-leading scorer in the local league, is sixteen years old. They were building sandboxes on the touchlines for the team to warm up in.

All this was tailor-made for T&T, who absolutely needed a win. Unfortunately, before the game, they had run into accomodation problems: several Panama hotels who had agreed to take them suddenly wouldn’t. Gamesmanship? Nope--the whole town was booked for the Nineteenth Latin American Poultry Farmers Conference. I’m not making that up; you can find the conference program in Spanish right here. It looks pretty interesting, with papers like “The Egg, Unbeatable Source of Nutrients--New Discoveries,” “The Eight Most Frequent Questions On Ventilation For Chickens,” and my favorite, “Which Came First, the Chicken, the Egg, or the Dély Valdés Brothers?”

Eventually the team found a hotel, even if they had to pick feathers out of the sinks. And with everyone except Brent Sancho healthy, even a town full of manic poultry farmers would find them tough to beat. But there was one problem: Leo Beenhakker insisted on playing Russell Latapy up front again. I suppose we can’t expect him to read Planet World Cup, but after all, he’s right there on the sideline watching the games. Don’t they have contact lenses in Holland? Once more, slowly: unless Latapy’s in midfield, the attack doesn’t function.

And so, in the first half, T&T had little but the longball and set pieces. Their best chance from open play came when Latapy dropped back to feed Yorke, whose blistering shot was turned aside by Penedo. Meanwhile Panama’s toddlers were toddling in, out, and all around, controlling midfield, producing some nice passing combinations, putting the pressure on. Alas, when it came to the finish, they were short a few teddy bears. Shots from all angles went wide. At one point, with an absolutely free header from only 8 yards, Torres chose instead to head to a teammate. Put it down to immaturity--but remember that in earlier games the adults had missed lots of chances themselves.

At the interval Beenhakker must have picked up some new bifocals, because he had Latapy drop back a bit, and T&T began to look more dangerous. But it wasn’t until the 61st minute that he figured out the eye chart. He sent on Kenwyne Jones, a true striker, and put Latapy back where he belonged. And in the very next minute, Penedo drove a long goal kick, and Dennis Lawrence headed powerfully to Stern John, who dropped it back for Latapy, playing MIDFIELD. Latapy sent a pretty through ball for Jones, on a neat diagonal run. Jones collided with a defender, went down--but managed to push the ball to Stern John, who blasted a beauty of a left-footer past Penedo. The rest was mopping up. Panama gave it their all, but never seriously troubled Kelvin Jack; if Yorke and John hadn’t missed good chances, it could have been a rout.

It had been a fine effort for the pre-schoolers, particularly in the first half, and the press was properly appreciative. The real disappointment was the “crowd,” maybe only a couple of thousand die-hards, out-noised by T&T’s enthusiastic steel-banders. You know you’re in trouble when the fans prefer a poultry convention.

For the Warriors, a professional performance: nothing special, wobbly at times, but a vital win on the road. Most encouraging was John’s goal, a real striker’s goal; it showed again he might be able to deliver the goods when it counted. And maybe, just hopefully, just possibly, Leo had spotted exactly where to put the Little Magician. With Mexico only four days later, there was no time for an appointment with his optometrist.

21.Kelvin Jack
4.Marvin Andrews
3.Avery John Yellow Card 76 '
6.Dennis Lawrence
7.Christopher Birchall
11.Carlos Edwards
10.Subbed outRussell Latapy
 Subbed in 87' Aurtis Whitley
16.Silvio Spann Yellow Card 49 '
18.Subbed outDensill Theobald
 Subbed in 61' Kenwyne Jones
19.Dwight Yorke (capt.)
14.Stern John
9.Aurtis Whitley
15.Kenwyne Jones Yellow Card 73 '
1.Neil Hislop
24.Cyd Gray
13.Anton Pierre
20.Jason Scotland
 Leo Beenhakker
61'Subbed outSubbed inKenwyne Jones for Densill Theobald
87'Subbed outSubbed inAurtis Whitley for Russell Latapy
49'Yellow CardSilvio Spann
73'Yellow CardKenwyne Jones
76'Yellow CardAvery John