Trinidad and Tobago's senior men's team made the perfect start to their 2018 World Cup qualifying quest with a spirited 2-1 victory over hosts Guatemala at the Estadio Mateo Flores on Friday night.
The "Soca Warriors" were powered by second half goals from Belgium-based midfielder Khaleem Hyland and captain Kenwyne Jones to capture their first three points of the CONCACAF semi-final round group.
The victory on the night would have left all T&T supporters with a proud feeling as Stephen Hart's "Red Army" battled through the 94 minutes of play, leaving everything on the pitch to come away with deserving victory after their gutsy display. The win was T&T's first in Guatemala in 26 years dating back to the 1-0 shut out in 1989 by the "Strike Squad". And the goal that paved the way for the win on Friday had a similar look to the one which Kerry Jamerson drove home in 1989 as Hyland drilled a right footer past a hapless Paulo Motta in the 67th minute.
"Sometimes you can't always be playing beautiful football. You have to roll up your sleeves and do what is necessary to come away with a result. It was not pretty but we got the three points in a very difficult environment and I'm happy with that," Hart told TTFA Media after the win
"I was really pleased with the second half and the way in which we buckled down. We endured rough period with about five or six straight corners but we defended them well. We got the goal off a nice play with Khaleem and then the second goal was just beautiful to watch with the pass from Joevin," Hart added.
Jones' item would turn out to be the winner when Joevin Jones floated a perfect delivery into his path from the left and the big man clinically volleyed home past Motta to the dismay of the partisan Guatemalan home crowd. The goal was Jones' fourth in five outings for T&T, his 15th in 26 appearances since Hart took the helm and his 22nd overall.
Earlier the first half, T&T failed to settle against the Guatemalans who came hot out the blocks and intent on jostling the 'Warriors".
Gerson Tinoco and veteran Carlos Ruiz seemed at ease in the first half and threatened to leave T&T trailing but solid goalkeeping by Jan Michael Williams kept the hosts at bay. Williams used his legs to deny Tinoco in the 12th minute and Ruiz tested the Central FC custodian on a couple of occasions.
T&T had one look at goal, an effort from midfielder Keron Cummings which sailed over bar. The visitors had not found proper footing and would have been contented with a 0-0 scoreline at the break. But as is the case in such tough away encounters, resilience is a key and that was proven at the end of the affair.
Hart introduced midfield steel Kevan George and nippy winger Cordell Cato in the second half at the expense of Cummings and Lester Peltier. But still it seemed to be all Guatemala and at one point, shortly after the 55th minute, the hosts won five consecutive corner kicks and had the T&T defense laboring. But the backline of Radanfah Abu Bakr, Mekeil Williams, Sheldon Bateau and Daneil Cyrus held out well to keep the opponents at bay.
T&T didn't dwindle and unlike the 2005 squad which conceded heavily in the 5-1 loss, Hart's men came into their own and spoilt any plans of a Guatemalan party. Substitute Carlos Mejia pulled a goal back on a Ruiz assist but T&T would hold their composure in the closing four minutes of added on time to leave with maximum points.
The result was certainly not an easy one for the Guatemalans to digest as the T&T team bus, under advice of the Police, had to remain inside the stadium for at least 25 minutes before exiting at the risk of angry home fans stoning the team bus. The Police escort eventually led the bus out through another exit and safely to the Vista Real hotel. The team returns home at 4:27 pm yesterday on Copa Airlines via Panama City. The United States team is also scheduled to arrive around the same time on a charter.
The US trounced St Vincent/Grenadines 6-1 in their opener on Friday night in St Louis. A double by Jozy Altidore and one each from Bobby Wood, Geoff Cameron and Gyasi Zardes gave the US the win after the had fallen 1-0 behind in the 5th minute.
In Group A, Mexico won 3-0 at home against El Salvador on goals by Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela, and Canada beat visiting Honduras 1-0 on a 38th-minute goal by Orlando City's Cyle Larin. In Group B, Panama won 2-0 at Jamaica as Armando Cooper and Alberto Quintero scored, and Costa Rica defeated visiting Haiti 1-0 on Cristian Gamboa's 29th-minute goal.
Team Line Ups
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams ; 5.Daneil Cyrus, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 17.Mekeil Williams; 8.Khaleem Hyland 14.Andre Boucaud; 23.Lester Peltier (13.Cordell Cato, 63'), 20.Keron Cummings (19.Kevan George, 61'), 3.Joevin Jones; 9.Kenwyne Jones (10.Willis Plaza, 84').
Subs not used 1.Marvin Phillip (GK), 7.Jonathan Glenn, 18.Yohance Marshall, 16.Justin Hoyte, 12.Carlyle Mitchell, 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 11.Trevin Caesar.
Coach: Stephen Hart
Guatemala (4-4-2): 12.Paula Motta (GK); 4.Hamilton Lopez, 3.Elias Vasquez (6.Carlos Mejia, 54'), 13.Dennis Lopez, 11.Moises Hernandez, 18.Stefano Cincotta (7.Henry Lopez,74'), 15.Fredy Thompson, 10.Jose Contreras, 16.Marco Papa, 9.Gerson Tinoco (22.Mynor Lopez, 83'), 20.Carlos Ruiz (captain),
Coach: Ivan Sopegno
Referee: Mathieu Bourdeau (Canada)