Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chelsea rise to Guinness challenge


WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Dwayne Ramsaray, standing second from right, captain of winning team Chelsea in the national final of the Guinness Street Football Challenge 2014, holds aloft the trophy as he poses with the members of his outfit at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain on Saturday. Chelsea defeated Untouchables 1-0 to clinch the title.

Mark Fraser

Chelsea put behind them last year’s abrupt end to their run in the national final of the Guinness Street Football Challenge when they defeated North-East zonal champion Untouchables 1-0 in this year’s championship match at the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain on Saturday.

One of the early favourites to cop the national title last year after winning the Central Zone crown, they went out at the semi-final stage to Skillz That Killz in a penalty shootout after dominating their earlier matches. This time around they left nothing to chance.

The two teams were evenly matched but it was Untouchables, the 2011 champion, who came out more aggressive in the first four minutes of the match. Chelsea however, would defend resolutely before eventually beginning to mount attacks of their own. And it was one such move that produced the game winner.

After breaking down an attacking move by their opponent in the sixth minute of play Chelsea’s Sherwin Balthazar, while moving forward on the counterattack under close attention from two defenders, would find striker Kerry Joseph wide on the left with an almost flawless cross. Joseph ensured that the service his teammate delivered did not go to waste with a cracking left-footed shot that crashed into the bottom right corner of the net.

Second half action saw Untouchables take an even more urgent approach in going forward while hustling for every loose ball but Chelsea, to their credit, was equal to the task and would keep their composure. And when referee Inskip Carrington blew his whistle to signal the end of the match it meant that the national title of the Guinness Street Football finally went to the Central Zone.

Chelsea qualified for this year’s national final as the best second place team among the six zones after they finished runner-up to Foundation Fire in the Central Zone. They advanced to the final via a 1-0 win over North-West champion Front Line.

Speaking to the Express after the victory Chelsea’s captain Dwayne Ramasray said it was a privilege and an honour to be national champions and to now go on and represent Trinidad and Tobago at the regional final.

“Tonight’s victory made up for last year’s loss where we were beaten on penalties and went away feeling like we gave it away. We came out for it this year because we wanted it and in the end we achieved what we wanted,” Ramasray said. He added that they are now looking forward to the regional final where the plan is to play their usual game and hopefully ensure that the title remains with T&T.

The Central Zone proved the be the big winner at this year’s national final. It was the only zone that had two representatives at the final and they proved that they both deserved to be there when zonal winner Foundation Fire whipped Front Line 3-1 in the playoff for third place.

Having lost by a 2-1 margin to Untouchables in their semi-final encounter did not damper their spirit as Javon Skeete would give them the lead in the opening minute. Joshua Belgrave levelled proceedings when he found the back of the net for Front Line on the stroke of halftime after executing a brilliant one-two with Corneal Thomas before hitting home.

However, two second half items by Kosi Gabriel (8th) and Lyndon Ferguson (12th) saw Foundation capture third place. Last year’s national champion and reigning regional titlist Hills Have Eyes failed to make it out of the group stage of the competition.

Ferguson also gave the Central Zone another reason to feel proud when he copped the Golden Boot award for his tournament leading nine goals while Kerron Ford dethroned last year’s skills champion Mark Taylor. Forde and Chelsea will be flying the T&T flag at the June 6-7 regional final at the Jean Pierre Complex.

Chelsea took home $25, 000 for their efforts while Untouchables pocketed $10,000 and Foundation, $5,000.