Trinidad and Tobago fell marginally short. They were beaten, but not defeated.
It was a sobering feeling for many of the national footballers on Sunday night when losing the 2012 Caribbean Cup Final 1-0 to Cuba at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
After a goalless first 90 minutes, the winning goal came deep into extra-time, 23 minutes to be exact, and could be partially attributed to a goalkeeping error following a speculative shot from Marcel Hernandez, the Cuban striker converted into a wide midfielder.
The 23-year-old fired a 40-yard rocket that Trinidad goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams seemed to have covered, until the ball slipped out of his grasp and rolled into the goal. Joint T&T head-coach Jamaal Shabazz laid no blame on the national captain.
"It happens. In goalkeeping it happens," a philosophical Shabazz said of Williams' costly error. "He is certainly disappointed. But, he is strong enough to rebound from that situation, and so is this group. We want to take the positives out of the tournament, and come again ready for the Gold Cup."
Eight-time champions Trinidad and Tobago were looking for a first title in 11 years, after being in just their first Caribbean final in five years. During the Caribbean Cup run they won US$75,000 in prize money and also qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time in five years as well.
"Blows that don't break the back, will simply strengthen us going forward in the future. We are disappointed in the loss, but still have a good start for the future. We will take the positives out of it that we worked hard. We have a bunch of players who are certainly very committed to the national programme, and certainly a group based on their age, we can build upon," Shabazz said.
"The commitment and ability to pick themselves up from adversity has been demonstrated by this group and this is an important quality for our country at this time—the ability to rebound," the joint head coach added. "Even when they scored... even with three minutes to go, we believed that we could do it. We didn't, but certainly the will is there, and where there is a will certainly there is a way for Trinidad and Tobago football to get back on its feet. I think we are on the way back to recovery."
Shabazz, fellow head coach Hutson Charles, and assistant coach Derek King have overachieved—taking a young, mostly locally-based team to the final. T&T football had been through a period of tremendous trial in the last 15 to 16 months.
Funding has been an issue. But Shabazz said that a good attitude by the players, and the Government stepping in when it did, helped the team to a successful tournament. He also said the next step is waiting on the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) to decide if it keeps the technical staff intact. Then, the plan is to have the team well-prepared for the 2013 Gold Cup.
"We want to wait on the Federation. We can't pre-empt what will happen next. What we know is that since 2007, we have not been in a final of a Caribbean Cup, so this a good start for us. Now we have to sit down and plan and see if our plans mesh with what the Federation has in store and try to get that proper programme in place. We certainly enthusiastic. In no way do we feel defeated although we feel disappointed to lose. "
Shabazz, a practising Muslim, also dismissed the suggestion that he will not be with the team for the Gold Cup. Shabazz has had past travel issues with the USA authorities stemming from his participation in the 1990 coup attempt as a member of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen.
"I won't say that I can't travel. I travelled to the USA in 2006," Shabazz said. "Of course I have US travel issues, and conditions and restrictions. It is something we intend to take up with CONCACAF and the United States authorities. So there is the ability to travel, but there are restrictions and there are conditions, and we are going to explore every possibility, once the decision has been made by the Federation to keep the technical staff in place."