HANDS-ON BATTLE: Trinidad and Tobago's Kevon Carter, left, and the Dominican Republic's Edward Acevedo vie for the ball during their 2012 Caribbean Cup Group A encounter at Antigua Recreation Ground on Tuesday. T&T won 2-1 with Carter scoring one of the goals. —Photo: THADDEUS PRICE

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FINAL PUSH

Warriors hunting Caribbean Cup final berth vs Martinique Ian Prescott reports

By IAN PRESCOTT in Antigua

Tough maybe, but far from impossible.

Trinidad and Tobago's "Soca Warriors" want to reach the final of the Caribbean Cup football tournament for the first time in five years. So, expect a dog fight.

Twenty-five teams began qualifying, and now it's down to the final four. T&T take on Martinique in the first of today's semi-finals from 5 p.m. at Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG), while the improving Haitians face Cuba at 7 p.m. in the second semi-final.

In the past month, T&T beat Cuba (1-0) and drew with Haiti (0-0). Martinique is the only unknown quantity – the teams having last met in Martinique two years ago, when T&T won 1-0 at the group stage of the 2010 tournament. This evening, the Soca Warriors face a resurgent Martinique team, led by 34-year-old West Ham United striker Frédéric Piquionne, who was born in New Caledonia, but spent his teenaged years in Martinique.

Currently on loan to Doncaster Rovers, Piquionne has also played in the English Premier League with Portsmouth, as well as three French Ligue 1 teams. The Martinique team also includes several players who have played in the French second division, such as Kévin Parsemain, who at 24 years is already the country's top-scorer with 20 goals. Martinique look a solid team and very good in the air.

T&T field a fairly young squad with five national under-23 footballers. For former 2007 & 2009 FIFA Youth World Cup players like Daneil Cyrus (21), Curtis Gonzales (23), Aubrey David (22), Kevin Molino (22) and Joevin Jones (22), it will be their first time playing in a Caribbean Cup semi-final. More experienced campaigners like captain and goalie Jan Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip, Densill Theobald and Seon Power have been there before.

T&T are without foreign-based Lester Peltier and Hughton Hector, who are out of the tournament through injury. The Caribbean Football Union also turned down a Trinidad and Tobago request for two replacements. And defender Aubrey David will also miss the match after accruing two yellow cards. However, the Soca Warriors look for a positive result.

"Martinique have been one of the better-playing teams so far, and will be a formidable opponent," co head-coach Jamaal Shabazz said. "We know that we have to be at the top of our game."

"We will give the semi-finals our best shot. We will try to bring the Cup back to Trinidad and Tobago," Shabazz continued. "But we have to be realistic about where our football is at the moment, and not expect miracles over a short space of time. This is a work in progress, and a step by step process."

The Antigua and Barbuda people have not embraced the Caribbean Cup, forcing a semi-final switch to "town" at the ARG due to poor turnout of an average 100 fans at the remote Sir Vivian Richards Ground, North Sound. The ARG field is not in top condition for playing international football, and if it were a World Cup qualifier, someone would protest.

Turnout there have also been low, the best being the 2,000 that showed for the match between T&T and hosts Antigua. Just about 150 turned out to see the home town "Benna Boys'" first match against Dominican Republic, and even when Antigua faced a crucial last round match needing a win to get to the semi-final, just 800 supported them when they were defeated 1-0 by Haiti.

T&T have not played badly during these 2012 Caribbean finals; they just have not played consistently well. or kept their shape over 90 minutes of football. The technical staff is hoping to make some adjustments.

"We are going back to old school," co-head coach Hutson Charles said. "We have to do the things [that] we did to top the last two qualifying rounds."

Charles acknowledged that plans have not always gone right on the field to date, but is hoping that all fall into place against Martinique. He knows there had been grave errors at times. 

"The ones who play this game are the players. We (coaches) can't really control what they do in the moment. What we can do is practice, practice, practice. Keep talking to them and telling them what is right and what is wrong. But, when it comes to the final decision, they have to make it.

"We would put down a structure, and hopefully within the structure they make wise decision," Charles stressed.

"We expect that as national footballers they would act responsibly on the field, and play for their country."

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