Saturday, February 24, 2018

‘Princesses’ crowned Caribbean ‘Queens’


LIBERO: Trinidad and Tobago’s Canada-born central defender Arin King, right, holds off Jamaicans Nicole Campbell-Green and Sashana Campbell, left. T&T edged the Jamaicans 1-0 to cop the inaugural Women’s Caribbean Cup, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, on Tuesday night. —Photo: Anisto Alves

Mark Fraser

The Reggae Girlz probably felt set upon by a bunch of football bullies, when losing the first edition of the Women’s Caribbean Cup 1-0 to Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Princesses, the senior women’s national football team, at the Hasely Crawford on Tuesday night.

T&T won all four matches played, scoring 21 times while not conceding a single goal, on the way to being crowned first-ever Caribbean champions in women’s football. Not that it was one-sided in any way. It was a worthy final, nail-biting and hard-fought.

After being outplayed for much of the first half, Jamaica fought back, especially late, when they were firing on all cylinders. They would have done anything to get one of the 17 goals scored against their opponents in the group phase. But, the closest they got was when Arin King’s defensive header bounced off Jamaican striker Shakira Duncan and struck the T&T crossbar. Jamaica only really got this close again when Kenesha Reid’s low shot just beat the far post in the dying stages of the match.

The tournament’s ‘Most Valuable Player’ US-based T&T college player Mariah Shade, got the lone goal, her sixth of the tournament. And it was an early one too, scored in just the eighth minute, when Shade put a well-placed finish onto an over-the-top pass from Tasha St Louis, whose seven goals earned her the finals’ ‘Golden Boot’ award.

In fact, the hosts swept all the awards, including ‘Best Goalkeeper’—though Tobago-born Kamika Forbes owed much to her central defenders Arin King, Rhea Belgrave and the injured Ayanna Russell, giving her virtually nothing to do throughout the tournament. Forbes clearly did not make as much saves in the tournament than St Kitts-Nevis custodian Tynetta McCoy, who despite conceding ten against T&T saved her teammates as many times.

King especially, was a rock throughout the tournament. The Canada-born T&T defender, calm and assured, the perfect defender a goalie would want holding the line. On at least three occasions, King was the only obstacle between Jamaica star Duncan and a goal. Once, pacey Duncan got ahead onto an overhead pass.

Caught on the wrong side, King switched just in time to put in a decisive tackle, just as the Jamaican looked for her 15th goal (entire tournament). Later King, lunged in, but got such good position on Duncan, it gave the no-nonsense Cuban referee Irazema Aguilera no choice, but to dismiss the Jamaican appeals for a penalty. Someone mentioned “Trinidad’s Franco Berrazi, comparing King to the legendary Italian and AC Milan defender.

T&T played sweet football, almost ticky-tacky like the Spanish, and controlling the first half hour. After trying to ambush the Soca Princesses in the opening seconds, Jamaican were forced to retreat and defend until the storm passed.

They conceded a goal, but Jamaica defended well, shutting out the dangerous Kennya Cordner out of the match. Under similar pressure, deep-lying T&T playmaker Karen Forbes neither defended nor attacked well. But, as Jamaica emerged an attacking force in the second half, T&T fought wholeheartedly, until Shade dropped to the floor exhausted.

“I’m proud of Caribbean women(s) football. It was a great final,” stated Merron Gordon, Jamaica’s head-coach. “Both Trinidad and Jamaica are where they should be now. Hopefully, at least one of us will be in the World Cup.”

Likewise, T&T’s American head-coach Randy Waldrum thought it was a competitive final. “I think we played a great side in Jamaica. I think we saw a bit tonight; the fact that they had been together most of the summer in Miami,” Waldrum said.

“It wasn’t our best performance, but we needed a game like this where we were going to get stretched, so we could find out the area we needed to work on. But having said that, we are proud of the effort of the girls to have scored 21 goals and not given anything up.”