Fri, Sep

Trinidad and Tobago Head Coach looks on during a Concacaf Nations League encounter against El Salvador at Estadio Jorge "El Mágico" González, San Salvador, El Salvador on Sunday, September 10th 2023.

The T&T men's football team surged to the top of their Concacaf Nations League (CNL) A group last night, as they got a hard-fought 3-2 win against El Salvador at the Nacional Jorge Magico Gonzalez Stadium in El Salvador.

T&T fell behind as early as the 17th minute, as El Salvador defender Eriq Zavaleta headed past goalkeeper Denzil "Peng" Smith from a Dustin Corea set piece. Trinidad and Tobago were soon on level terms, as flanker Ryan Telfer sent a powerful left-footed blast into the net in the 22nd minute after receiving a precise pass from the left by Reon Moore.

The teams went to the break tied at 1-1. However, the visitors took the lead in the 51st minute through a clinical penalty by Canada-based Malcolm Shaw. The T&T attacker was bundled over in the area after receiving a clever square pass from halftime substitute Duane Muckette, and his spot kick gave El Salvador goalkeeper Thomas Romero no chance.

Smith was in great form between the uprights, making a string of remarkable saves. Smith's defenders fell asleep after Shaw's goal, though, and the hosts were back on level terms just two minutes later as Brayan Gil beat the T&T goalkeeper from point-blank range after being left unmarked from a Corea corner.

Despite conceding 63 per cent possession to their hosts, who had a whopping 26 shots at T&T goal, coach Angus Eve's Soca Warriors team stayed resolute and disciplined.

"We knew we were going to suffer for a bit. Possession doesn't win matches," Eve said after the match. "We have a plan. We have a way we want to play and the guys executed to a T.

"The guys are extremely disciplined, and there's a oneness in that dressing room there. Besides the talent and the discipline the team has, that's what is taking us through."

In the 71st minute, the togetherness and jubilation were there for all to see, as towering Defence Force defender Justin "Shiggy" Garcia beat Romero with a looping header to the far post after meeting a deep free kick by Telfer. Garcia scored ten goals from his centre-back position as Defence Force won the inaugural TT Premier League and its knockout cup. He was one of several local-based players overlooked for the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup.

In San Salvador, El Salvador, Garcia's value in national colours was evident.

"Justin Garcia has been scoring those headers for fun with Defence Force, so I took something from (Defence Force) coach Hutson Charles and they, and I had him spin around at the back post," Eve said. "He's very effective."

As T&T edged to their first-ever win in El Salvador at senior level, Eve decided to protect the three points at all costs as he inserted defenders Kareem Moses and Andre Raymond, as well as central midfielder Michel Poon-Angeron in the latter stages of the game. The front three of Moore, Telfer and Shaw were withdrawn, with T&T switching from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a more compact 4-5-1 shape.

Despite T&T's defensive approach towards the end of the game, the hosts fashioned two great opportunities and would have equalised if not for Smith's brilliance.

In the 76th minute, the 23-year-old Smith, who injured a finger during the first half, sprawled to his right to stop an effort by Gil. In stoppage time, the former Shiva Boys' Hindu College standout came up huge for T&T once more, as he made a flying save to his left to keep out a precise header by Zavaleta.

"I could call 15 man-of-the-match winners, but I'll give Denzil because he was spectacular," Eve said. "People may not know that he did his finger in during the first half. For him to save the whole game (was excellent). We tried to take him off and he said he didn't want to come off.

"That's the kind of fight and grit we will need to have to build back T&T football."

As the five minutes of stoppage time elapsed, the T&T players and staff members were in an ecstatic mood as they wildly celebrated their historic victory on El Salvador soil.

Eve, whose tenure as head coach was extended to March 2024, defended his team's style of play.

"I've seen big coaches like (Jose) Mourinho, David Moyes and Claudio Ranieri – when he won the English Premier League with Leicester City – have like 35 per cent possession (when their teams played)," Eve said.

"We think we have good wingers. We have good, fast forwards, so we think that we can soak up pressure, because defensively we are very solid.

"We think we can play on the break and play this counter-attacking game we have been playing. It's working for us."

Eve said his players lose their focus and discipline when they try to play a more open game, and this group has now bought into this style.

After two group A matches, T&T sit atop the six-team table with a maximum six points. Panama and Guatemala (both four points) are in second and third spot respectively with two group matches left. With the top two teams in the group progressing to the Nations League quarterfinals, T&T are in an advantageous position at present.

These quarterfinal matches will see the top two teams from groups A and B facing off against the top-seeded Concacaf nations in Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and the US, in a home-and-away format in Fifa's November 2023 match window. The four winners of these quarterfinal ties will advance directly to the Nations League finals, as well as coveted places in the 2024 Copa America – South America's premier continental competition.

There will be two other Copa spots up for grabs, and this will be determined via a single-match playoff between the four losing quarterfinalists in March 2024.

T&T's remaining Nations League group matches are home versus Guatemala (October 13) and away to Curacao (October 17). Eve could be forgiven for starting to dream of a Copa 2024 spot against the likes of Argentina and Brazil.


Soca Warriors captain: We have unfinished business.
By Ronel Walcott (T&T Newsday).

New Trinidad and Tobago men's football team captain Aubrey David says the Soca Warriors have unfinished business in the Concacaf Nations League as they seek to qualify for the quarter-finals.

T&T top the six-team group in League A with a maximum six points from two games, with two more games still to be played in the October window. With the top two teams from the group advancing to the quarter-finals, David told the team they did a great job beating El Salvador 3-2 on Sunday, but there's still more work to be done.

"This is just one part of the hurdle that we crossed over. It's a good accomplishment but we still have a lot to do," said David, who was named captain following the sudden retirement of playmaker Kevin Molino on September 1. "We have to go back to our clubs and be professional and keep up the good work. When we come back in October we have a job to finish."

David said the team used "bad mind" and "determination" to get them over the line in their first-ever win in El Salvador.

Trailing after just 17 minutes, T&T took their first lead in the 51st minute through a Malcolm Shaw penalty, before defender Justin "Shiggy" Garcia guaranteed the three points with his looping header in the 71st minute.

T&T will host Guatemala (four points) at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo on October 13, before closing off the Nations League group phase with a trip away to Curacao (zero points) on October 17. T&T defeated Curacao by a 1-0 margin in their first match last Thursday.

The 32-year-old David, who has over 70 international caps, is calling for the Warriors to be supported in full numbers.

"It's not going to be an easy (job) of course, but I think we need the support of the stakeholders and the fans to come and give that love," he said. "(On Sunday) we played against (15,000) people and we felt the atmosphere. We need that support also."

David said the T&T team dug deep and stayed positive despite going behind at the Nacional Jorge Magico Gonzalez Stadium.

"We believed in ourselves. I think the victory we got from home was really good for us and we knew that we could build on it. When we went into this game we came with confidence knowing that unity, discipline and teamwork would get the job done.

"Even though we went a goal down, we never dropped our heads and we stayed positive and united. I think the bad mind and determination from each and everybody was the (determining) factor for us."

The Costa Rican-based David has formed a new partnership at the heart of the T&T defence with Garcia, and he hopes he and his teammates can continue the momentum gained in El Salvador.

"I just want to say I am proud of the guys and this is something we can build on. I'd just like to say to the fans and stakeholders, come and throw your support behind the team."