Nathaniel James came off the bench to score his fourth goal in three matches and set up the other to fire T&T to a deserved 3-0 win over Suriname in their must-win Group F final round match of the Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula on Thursday night.
With the win, the Angus Eve-coached Under-20 Soca Warriors made certain of qualification to the round-of-16 as a top-three finisher in the four-team group with Mexico (six points) and Haiti (four points) who met in the group decider at the same venue in yesterday's late match.
The match between T&T and Suriname was shifted to the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano instead of the original venue Estadio Morazan after the city of San Pedro Sula was affected by very heavy rainfall over the last week which made the playing surface at Estadio Morazan unplayable.
In the round-of-16, T&T who have reached the FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals twice before, in 1991 under the guidance of Bertille St Clair and 2009 under Zoran Vranes, will come up against Costa Rica on Saturday at the Yankel Rosenthal from 3 pm.
Needing to win Suriname attempted to put T&T on the back foot from the kickoff and in the tenth minute they had the first chance through striker Jayen Gerold on a fast break, but he was denied by goalkeeper Tristan Edwards, one of five changes from the 5-0 loss by coach Angus Eve.
Three minutes later, the nippy Real Gill had T&T's first attempt on the Suriname goal after wiggling his free of two defenders inside the right-hand top of the 18-yard box, however, his right-footed snap shot was comfortably collected by goalkeeper Jonathan Fonkel.
Edwards was forced into action again in the 20th minute as a long ball over the top beat defender Jaheim Joseph and fell at the feet of Dimitrio Andro, but once again Edwards was alert to the danger and raced off his line to make a point-blank save before Joseph cleared the rebound which was looping goalwards.
A minute, Gill again tested Fonkel from the right-hand corner of the 18-yard box, but this time with a stinging left-footed attempt that forced a corner.
T&T then had a golden chance to take the lead via a counter-attack started by Gill, however captain Molik Khan of US Major League Soccer's Minnesota United dragged his left-footed attempt across the face of Fonkel's goalmouth.
Khan was again presented with another chance to put T&T ahead, this time with Tarik Lee being the provider, but Fonkel was quickly off his line to close down the attempt.
Four minutes from the half-time whistle, Khan did manage to put the ball into the back of the net, but it was waved off by referee Bryan Lopez of Guatemala for a handled ball, and despite the protest of the T&T captain who pleaded his case as the ball came off his chest, the decision was surprisingly upheld by the Video Assistant Referee officials.
On the resumption, chances continued to fall for both teams with Khan mistiming a right-footed volley at the edge of the six-yard box from a right-sided centre by second-half introduction Nathaniel James while at the other end, defender Joseph was caught on the ball by Gerold on the just inside the half, but the Suriname attacker failed to make full use of his team-mates on a three versus two counter-attacks.
Khan was again presented with another chance to put T&T ahead when Thomas drew the attention of four Suriname players inside the 18-yard box before slipping his captain a short pass, but yet again, he failed to find the target.
The go-ahead item would finally come for T&T a minute later thanks to James as he unleashed a left-footed drive from about five yards outside the top of the "D" which caught Fonkel off-guard and nestled into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal.
T&T was now in the drivers' seat while Suriname now needed two goals to advance and after further near misses from Gill and Thomas, Khan finally found the target when he connected with a James left-footed free-kick on the volley to guide the ball home in the 84th minute for a 2-0 lead.
James then scored another with two minutes left on the clock to up his tally to four goals when his intended pass to fellow substitute Tyrik Trotman ricochet off a Suriname defender into his path for a confident finish past Fonkel to put the icing on the win and avenge a 2-0 loss to the same opponents in 2018.
The trio of USA (seven points), Cuba (six), and Canada (four) qualified from Group E while hosts Honduras with a maximum of nine points, Costa Rica (four), and Jamaica (4-0) have also qualified as the top three finishers in Group H, and in Group G, El Salvador (six) and Guatemala (six), as well as Panama (three) all qualified ahead of last night's final pool match between Panama and El Salvador for the top spot.
The 12 qualifiers from the four groups now advance to the round-of-16 where they will join already qualified Curacao, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic who all qualified directly as winners of their respective groups in the Concacaf Men’s U-20 Championship Qualifiers held last November in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The 16-team Knockout Stage will begin with the round-of-16 Saturday, June 25, and continue on Sunday, June 26 followed by the quarterfinals on Tuesday, June 28, and Wednesday, June 29, semifinals on Friday, July 1, and the final on Sunday, July 3.
Unlike the previous editions, the competition will determine not only the four Concacaf representatives at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia but also the two Concacaf representatives at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
Thursday's Concacaf Under-20 Group F result:
T&T 3 (Nathaniel James 64th, 88th, Molik Khan 84th) vs Suriname 0
T&T: 18 Tristan Edwards (GK), 2 Christian Bailey, 4 Jaheim Joseph, 13 Noah Roka, 14 Josiah Cooper, 6 Kassidy Davidson (3 Marvin Waldrop 80th), 7 Kaihim Thomas (17 Andrew De Gannes 69th), 8 Luke Phillip, 10 Molik Khan (captain), 9 Real Gill (16 Tyrik Trotman 80th), 20 Tarik Lee (11 Nathaniel James 47th).
Subs not used: 1 Jahiem Wickham (GK), 19 Isaiah Thompson, 5 Jaron Pascall, 15 Micah Cain.
Suriname: 20 Jonathan Fonkel (GK), 2 Shafiek Wassenaar (18 Raviek Pryor 66th), 4 Dichayro Naarendorp (captain), 5 Eja Dakriet, 7 Eldjero De Mees (9 Ammiel Reingoud 47th), 8 Jaydavon Haas, 11 Chiverio Adelij, 15 Chesron Oostwoud, 16 Jayen Gerold, 10 Dimitrio Andro, 13 Givon Derby (12 Jair Brashuis 74th),
Subs not used: 1 Dwayne Meerzorg (GK), 14 Jamal Lodik, 6 Rafael Wartes, 17 Roche Asidan, 19 Georrayne Boumann.