There has never been a Caribbean Cup finals without the Trinidad and Tobago national senior football team. The “Soca Warriors” should have to work hard to retain that legacy from 6 pm today when they face Cuba in the last qualifying match of a four-team group at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago.
If they are lucky, the Warriors would have confirmed their progress to next month’s Caribbean Cup finals in Antigua and Barbuda without kicking a ball. Should St Vincent and the Grenadines draw or lose against Suriname in an earlier encounter from 4 pm at the same venue, Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba would both advance automatically.
A surprise Surinamese triumph would be an uncharacteristic gift for Trinidad and Tobago’s interim coach Hutson “Barber” Charles and his men, though.
From financial woes due to infighting with the Sport Ministry to Tropical Storm Rafael, the Warriors have been doing things the hard way since former Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special advisor Jack Warner’s disgraceful exit from the game in June 2011.
Warner’s departure coincided with the disappearance of the TTFF’s 2014 World Cup television rights money, a halt on funding from FIFA—due to Warner’s role in Haiti’s supposedly missing financial aid money—and a hostile relationship with Sport Minister Anil Roberts and his Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed.
It is a chain of events that led the Warriors here; at the brink of elimination from a Caribbean tournament that it dominated, just over a decade ago.
If the “Vincey Heat” team sees off Suriname, the loser between Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba would be eliminated. If the Warriors draw, then cue confusion.
Typically, teams are selected via goal differential. But a Caribbean Football Union (CFU) rule change means that the eliminated team is not considered in such mathematical considerations.
So, a high scoring draw between Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago should eliminate a St Vincent team that drew 1-1 with Cuba and T&T. While a goalless draw may put the Vincentians through automatically while the CFU may then be forced to use the margin of victory over Suriname to decide the Warriors’ fate.
Cuba, who beat Suriname by two more goals than T&T managed, should then grab the second and final qualifying spot.
There is only one way for the Warriors’ to save themselves from the CFU’s version of the Duckworth-Lewis method; and that is with a win today.
Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago last faced each other on 26 November 2010 in Martinique. The Spanish-speaking islanders beat T&T 2-0 in the Caribbean Cup finals group match and it marked the start of the end for then coach Russell Latapy, who lost his post within a week.
Eight Cubans from that game are in their squad today gifted attacker Marcel Hernandez, burly striker Roberto Linares, midfielder Jaine Colome and goalkeeper Odin Molina.
Trinidad and Tobago has six survivors including captain and custodian Jan-Michael Williams, utility player Joevin Jones and midfielders Clyde Leon and Hughtun Hector.
But it would trivialise the importance of today’s clash to describe it as a “grudge match.”
In 2003, Hannibal Najjar became the first Trinidad and Tobago coach to miss out on a CONCACAF Gold Cup spot. Five years later, Colombia-born Francisco Maturana became the first coach who could not take the two-island republic past the Caribbean Cup finals group stage.
Charles and his men must avoid being the first team to miss out on a Caribbean Cup spot altogether.
(Possible Team): - 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt); 4.Kern Cupid, 6.Kareem Moses, 20.Seon Power, 8.Aubrey David; 18.Densill Theobald, 3.Joevin Jones; 14.Hashim Arcia, 16.Keyon Edwards, 7.Hughtun Hector; 13.Richard Roy.
Substitutes: 21.Marvin Phillip, 2.Clyde Leon, 9.Devorn Jorsling, 10.Ataullah Guerra, 11.Kevon Carter, 12.Curtis Gonzales,
Suspended: Carlyle Mitchell
Injured: Jamal Gay, Kendall Jagdeosingh
Today’s Caribbean Cup fixtures
St Vincent and the Grenadines v Suriname, 4 pm,
Trinidad and Tobago v Cuba, 6 pm.