BUOYED by their 2-1 win over arch-rivals Jamaica, the national football team will bid to maintain their 100 per cent record this evening at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
All but assured of a place in the semifinal stage of the tournament after their Jamaica triumph at the same venue on Thursday evening, the “Soca Warriors” face Martinique from 7.15 p.m. in 2001 Copa Caribe Group A action.
The Jamaicans need a win over Barbados today to book their spot in the next round although a draw would suffice if T&T down the Martiniquans in the second match of the double header.
The Reggae Boyz face table-proppers Barbados from 5 p.m.
Barbados scored their first goal of the tournament on Thursday when forward Llewellyn Riley converted from the penalty spot. But a double from Martinique captain Rodolphe Rano—who missed their opening loss against Jamaica—and a powerful left-footed freekick from Ludovic Clément secured the win for the Frenchmen.
Martinique, 1993 Caribbean Cup champs and three time finalists, will be hard pressed to repeat the trick against the resurgent hosts.
The Warriors head the group with six points and a plus six goal differential while Martinique and Jamaica have three points apiece. Martinique have the slighter better goal difference but they will be mindful that Jamaica play their final match against the Bajans.
T&T have already won an impressive seven Caribbean titles from 10 completed editions of the competition while they have only lost once at home.
On Thursday, the Warriors savoured the sweet taste of revenge against the Boyz who beat them at the same venue in the 1998 Caribbean Cup final, whipped them there 4-2 last July and edged them 1-0 at Kingston, Jamaica, in the first game of the 2002 Concacaf World Cup qualifying final round.
Yugoslav Zoran Vranes, who controlled the bench in the absence of suspended coach Ian Porterfield, was a picture of contentment.
“This will help our confidence,” said a beaming Vranes in the post-game conference. “Our next game will be easier.”
He would not have been nearly as pleased with his side at the halfway stage of the game. Jamaican custodian Donovan Ricketts was virtually untested at the break while a 1-0 lead for the Boyz after a tight first half would have encouraged his bench.
The Boyz took the lead in the 16th minute through US Major League Soccer (MLS) forward Wolde Harris who slotted home after a collision between teammate Andy Williams and opposing custodian Clayton Ince while contesting a right-side cross.
Not a well orchestrated finish but still a fair reflection of the game at that stage.
Compact in the midfield and quick to the tackle, the Jamaicans had slowly wrested control from their hosts who seemed to be struggling for cohesion.
Then, inexplicably, the Jamaicans stopped playing football.
Perhaps it was complacency—it would have been their third straight win over T&T—or a lack of confidence in their offence owing to the absence of several key strikers including the always menacing Onandi Lowe.
Whatever the reason, the Jamaicans opted at their peril to sit back and their hosts thankfully accepted control of the game.
Still it took a shrewd tactical change to undo the work of Jamaica’s Brazilian coach, Clovis De Oliviera.
Twelve minutes after the interval, off went the anonymous playmaker Lyndon Andrews and stylish Joe Public striker Arnold Dwarika retreated from the forward line to take his place. It proved to be the game’s defining moment.
With Theodore Whitmore and Andy Williams both unwilling to shadow Dwarika, the dreadlocked maverick offered his best 45 minutes in a national shirt for the year with a display of thoughtful, insightful play and precise ball movement.
Jamaica had no answer and De Oliviera was left ruing the absence of his experienced players by the end of regulation time. Still Dwarika did not have a direct role in either T&T goal.
The equaliser came after Jamaica defender Shavar Thomas clattered into opposing striker Stern John and his teammate Angus Eve firmly sidefooted home from the box edge.
Twenty-two-year-old midfielder Brent Rahim —one of the finds of the tournament thus far—got the winner seven minutes later when the Jamaican defence failed to clear a low raking right-side cross from the overlapping Elcock.
The result was all the more important for the Warriors as they will be without John—the record scorer in a Caribbean Cup finals—who picked up his second successive caution for a handled ball.
But, as Jamaica’s assistant coach Carl Brown pointed out, T&T have been helped immensely by their bench and promising Public forward Nigel Pierre is more than capable of bridging the gap.
It is the depth of the Jamaican roster that may hold the key to their chances of dethroning the Warriors.
It is a point that was not lost on the perceptive De Oliviera either.
“Once we get past this round,” he told the media. “I hope to have Onandi Lowe.”
The tournament, he was saying, is far from over.