Thu, Aug
Match Report
Trinidad & Tobago Finland
T&T flag Finland
Jason Scotland (31')

2003-01-29Hasely Crawford StadiumPort-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago3000

Warriors bow to late Finnish

“IT WAS a blessing in disguise,” said Trinidad and Tobago national senior team coach Hannibal Najjar yesterday. “There was definitely a silver lining.”
The feisty, fast-talking Najjar was back.

Only a day earlier, he had offered a limp “no comment” when asked for insight to his players protest over conditions on the national team.

The prospect of meeting the Finland national team—who are in the middle of their 2004 European Championships qualifying campaign—with just two first-choice players—Jason Scotland and Anton Pierre—was clearly disconcerting.

Thirteen fresh players and a narrow 2-1 loss later and Najjar was swaggering once more.

“To think you have brought boys from a rested state,” he said, “and ask them to come to play a Finnish team that beat Portugal 4-1 several games ago. I don’t think you can ask for more...

“It was a gritty, gutsy, excellent performance worthy of at least a tied game.”

No record of such a comprehensive Finland victory over Portugal was found on the FIFA website and it is a scoreline that must be seen to be believed.

But Najjar was on spot about his team’s lack of readiness and the marginally unjust result.

It was a damning verdict of Finnish coach Antti Muurinen’s charges, who were held goalless by Barbados in an earlier match on their brief Caribbean tour.

It would take several Jari Litmanens and Sami Hypiias—two of their more recognised foreign-based players—to get Finland to qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, yet alone the Euro Championships.

Trinidad and Tobago fans would be rightly more concerned with the state of their own football affairs, though.

A dramatic walk-out by almost the entire “Soca Warriors” first team on Monday morning was followed by a bullish response from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF), who banned the “rebels” from all football until further notice.

If Brent Sancho and company had hoped for support in their effort to force the provision of basic amenities such as ice bags and ankle tapes, they must have been disappointed. There were more than 4,000 supporters—many wearing red—at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Wednesday evening, while the players who broke the strike to play were given a standing ovation at the end of the match.

And Najjar was fawning over a new bunch of players such as CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh midfielder Kerry Baptiste and the Defence Force duo of Kurt Williams and Kwesi Smith.

“I believe at least 50 per cent of that squad has made a statement to me,” said Najjar. “When one door closes another opens.”

It was the familiar figure of Scotland who held the key, though. The match was just seven minutes old when “Scottie” conjured up the first chance with a darting run and low, raking pass which an unmarked Errol McFarlane drove against the legs of Finnish custodian Jani Viander. If you want anything done properly...

Scotland did it himself in the 30th minute as he shrugged off his marker, Marko Tuomela, before crashing the ball home at the near post for the opening item. It was his third goal in two outings under Najjar, although just his first full international finish.

Little else was worth reporting from the opening 45 minutes, barring the performance of the Woodbrook Playboyz steelband.

Sweet, melodic tunes steadily wafted through the breeze from accurately struck notes. Both teams on the playing field cried out for such organisation.

The Finns enjoyed more possession, but their passes lacked guile while their wingers offered little penetration. Little really to stretch Pierre—finally used in his natural position—who gave a commanding display alongside Craig Demmin in central defence.

Muurinen’s chances hinged almost solely on exploiting their height advantage from set pieces.

Toni Kuivasto headed one effort from a corner onto the crossbar in the first half and went close again in the second half. It was all hands on deck by the Finns as Muurinen used three changes at the interval and two more later in the half.

The towering Mika Kottila was the last substitute on as he entered the field in the 75th minute with a bandaged skull. He needed just three minutes and one touch to turn the game on its head.

Debutant goalie Selwyn George, one of seven Army/Coast Guard players in the starting line-up, failed to negotiate the flight of a deep right side cross and Kottila popped up to convert a simple header.

Two minutes later, Finland went ahead as Jari Niemi smashed past George after cutting in from the right flank to collect a through pass from substitute Antti Pohja.

Najjar responded by quickly recalling former “Team 2001” stopper Kenwyne Jones, who had earlier replaced Handell Manswell, to the bench in favour of North East Stars midfielder Anthony Wolfe.

The change robbed Jones—who was curiously employed as a left winger—of his first senior international cap alongside fellow-substitute and St Anthony’s College recruit, Steve Sealy.

But there was clearly nothing on the Warriors’ bench to unsettle even the mediocre Finnish outfit.

The likes of Travis Mulraine and Cornell Glen were sorely missed. But it was Najjar and the T&TFF who were claiming a moral victory.

“Trinidad and Tobago, I hope, are proud of what a team in two sessions could do against a very good Finnish team,” said the technical director. “To pun on the word, we finished very well.”

There were no losers at the stadium on Wednesday. But, after a hurried stance from disgruntled players, and an even flimsier response from the T&TFF, there were no winners either.

 Selwyn George
 Craig Demmin
 Anton Pierre (capt.)
 Subbed outDavid George
 Subbed in 89' Adrian Nunez
 Owen Matthews
 Kwesi Smith
 Kurt Williams
 Kerry Baptiste
 Subbed outHandel Manswell
 Subbed in 55' Kenwyne Jones
 Subbed outErrol McFarlane
 Subbed in 65' Steve Sealy
 Jason Scotland
 Subbed outKenwyne Jones
 Subbed in 80' Anthony Wolfe
 Adrian Nunez
 Steve Sealy
 Anthony Wolfe
 Hannibal Najjar
55'Subbed outSubbed inKenwyne Jones for Handel Manswell
65'Subbed outSubbed inSteve Sealy for Errol McFarlane
80'Subbed outSubbed inAnthony Wolfe for Kenwyne Jones
89'Subbed outSubbed inAdrian Nunez for David George