Monday, February 19, 2018

A taste of victory*

DEADLY DUO: T&T's Mickell Pierre, left, celebrates a goal against Poland with strike partner Akim Toussaint in tow, at the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin on Wednesday. Both players have four goals to date. —Photo: FIH

THE Trinidad and Tobago men ended their barren run at the 5th FIH (International Hockey Federation) Indoor World Cup in Germany yesterday, scoring an historic 6-4 win over Kazakhstan to bolster their growing reputation as one of the better teams in the world at the faster form of the game.

The hard-fought victory was T&T's first-ever in two appearances at a World Indoor tournament. And it completed a better day for the 12-man squad and its technical staff following two losses on opening day Wednesday. Yesterday's win came seven hours after they took 11th-ranked Australia to the brink before losing a thriller, 6-7, to the applause of admiring fans at the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin.

With only one Pool A game left to play today—against hosts, overwhelming favourites and three-time champions Germany—the importance of yesterday's victory could hardly have been overstated by coach Raphael “Raffie” Govia.

“The boys played with pride,” Govia told the Express last night. He said the win was even more remarkable, given problems they had to overcome in getting the team back to the hotel in time to rest after the Australia game and having them re-focus on the way back to the arena.

But, he said: “We went into the match against Kazakhstan on a positive vibe. We knew the entire nation, the hockey fraternity and the families of the guys have been backing us.”

Playing last on court for the day and without a point after three outings, T&T took the attack to Kazakhstan from the outset and got just reward. Centre Akim Toussaint, until yesterday content to fulfil his role as playmaker, turned to his goalscoring side and struck in the fifth and seventh minutes.

The Asians, ranked two places (16th) above T&T, pulled a goal back just before half-time but three minutes after the restart, Mickell Pierre restored T&T's two-goal advantage and a minute later, Kwesi Emmanuel improved the score to 4-1. The Kazakhs struck back twice in as many minutes to draw within one but a Jordan Reynos penalty stroke and another strike by Toussaint—his hat-trick—put the game out of reach of their despairing opponents. Though Kazakhstan got another via penalty corner, T&T kept them out in the final eight minutes for the well-earned victory.

Earlier, Team TTO had produced arguably an ever better performance, causing panic among the 11th-ranked Australians as they threatened to create the biggest upset in the competition thus far.

After two minutes, T&T were leading through a Mickell Pierre strike. Adam Seccull brought Australia back level but Toussaint, who played club hockey Down Under last year, fired in a penalty corner —his first goal of the tournament—and T&T were looking good, leading 2-1.

That all changed when the Aussies turned on the pressure, scoring three times in six minutes to lead 4-2; and though T&T skipper Solomon Eccles put away a penalty corner in the 18th, it was Australia who led 5-3 at the half.

In the second period Jordan Reynos converted a penalty in-between two more Australian goals and it seemed, at 7-4, that T&T would have to settle for another defeat. But in the final (40th) minute Eccles rammed in two more penalty corners, leaving coach Govia and his players to ponder on what might have been, had time not run out.

Eccles, Pierre and Toussaint lead the team in goals with four each; Emmanuel and Reynos each have two. But the celebrations would likely have been restrained last night as the coach, staff and players sought to prepare for a battle with their all-conquering hosts today. Team TTO face Germany at 6.50 a.m., T&T time.