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Close, but the Warriors got a positive result
We could not have asked for a better setting for this crucial match against Guatemala, where the crowd had responded to the call with an estimated 16,000 witnesses proving the patriotic support, and the Hasely Crawford Stadium field in Mucurapo was in excellent condition too.
Regardless of which players we expected to start, the choices were more than appropriate, taking all things into consideration, and with semblance of careful planning. Within the first eight minutes of the game, Cordell Cato and Kevin Molino could have placed the team into a comfort zone.
Clearly, some early pressure placed on the Guatemalans found them tottering, mainly because of the speed at which the attacking approach had befuddled the early sluggish response by the veterans Rafael Morales and Hamilton Lopez, two usually reliable central defenders. Cato showed his anxiety to get the job done but faulted when the chance actually appeared.
A bit of composure when he was free in the penalty box would have brought us the lead. The pressure continued and this time it was Molino, a typical classy goal scorer who missed what was expected to be the run of the mill goal.
Maybe the aggression of the first few minutes could have been maintained a bit longer but for some unknown reason, the Guatemalans were allowed to settle down, using some clever inter-passing within their own half of the field, without being pressured in a manner similar to the early period.
Three experienced midfielders in Marco Pappa, Carlos Ruiz, and Jose Manuel Contreras, brought the game to their pace, and suddenly goalkeeper Marvin Phillip was forcefully brought into the picture.
An outstanding save from a freekick delivered by Ruiz in the 14th minute, brought Phillip into action and saved early embarrassment to the host.
The strategy of the Central Americans was to utilise the space that was left vacant by Mekeil Williams on the left side defense as he showed his intention to go forward to assist attacking moves. His recovery was slow and sometimes late. Pappa built up some midfield possession, expanded his territory to the vacancy behind Williams’s back, and dispatched a well-timed crossed ball behind the backs of Carlyle Mitchell, Sheldon Bateau, and Daneil Cyrus within a corridor that met the old-stager Ruiz awaiting its arrival to slot it home.
The message was received by the Warriors and both Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud increased the velocity of ball movement from their midfield positions towards the flanks, allowing us to see the occasional brilliance of Joevin Jones and the speed of Cato. The possibility of an equaliser was created within that plan, which saw a super aerial service met skipper Kenwyne Jones’ head which was brilliantly saved by keeper Paulo Motta.
The trend continued, and left sided Joevin Jones himself found a delicate space within the Guatemalan defense, accelerated through the left of center and slid the equaliser through the legs of Motta within seconds of the stoppage time.
A sigh of relief result, and there must have been some healthy discussion, which may well have been aimed at the moderate efforts by the skipper, especially when he was receiving some tough tackles, and Joevin’s minimal use of his brilliant skills more regularly.
The same could be said about Molino, whose recent tough matches with Orlando may have taken some energy out of him.
On the plus side, the tightening of the back four defense in terms of adequate support and good communication brought an obvious view of competence, a feature which made life difficult for the opponents. In the 65th minute, the large crowd saw the absolute brilliance of the Seattle Sounders left midfielder.
With a burst of speed towards the left side, Joevin collected a timely through pass, attacked the right-side defender Cristian Jimenez, produced a deceptive dribble and dispatched a left footed swerver towards the far corner. The goal was a beauty and appeared to be a match winner.
Between the 66th and 70th minutes Phillip was asked to make two very difficult but timely saves, both of which he executed wonderfully and left us all feeling that victory was eminent.
Guatemala did not change the format of their game. They built their passes methodically and hardly rushed forward into what was then a trafficular T&T defense. Instead they allowed their two playmakers Pappa and Ruiz to create opportunities.
Eventually it happened. A shot from outside the penalty struck Phillip and fell towards Ruiz who calmly knocked it in for the equaliser. The various acts of time wasting became evident, seeing that the draw was sufficient for the Warriors to enter the final six teams to fight for the Russian World Cup Finals.
Their match against the USA on Tuesday will have not value regarding the placings, but it will offer to the Warriors the opportunity to expose the deficiencies of the USA defence, especially the one they used against St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Because the “Yanks” are also comfortable, they will probably expose their youngsters. However, to defeat them is to send a message for the future.
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