Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors came from a goal down to complete a 4-1 victory over French Guiana to get their Caribbean Cup off to the desired start, at Warner Park in St Kitts, on Wednesday evening.
With the "Money or maybe not" issue hanging over their heads for the past few days, skipper Jan Michael Williams and his men produced a valiant display to jump to the top of Group 5 after hosts St Kitts/Nevis could only muster a 2-0 win over Anguilla in the second game of the double-header. Those results set up a key fixture between T&T and St Kitts/Nevis from eight p.m. today as the match winners could well finish table toppers and book their place in the next phase, scheduled to take place in T&T next month.
Head coach Hutson Charles opted for Jamal Gay as his lone forward with three in the middle of the park, using Densill Theobald, Hughtun Hector and Joevin Jones, with Keon Daniel on the left and Kevon Carter on the right. His back four included Carlyle Mitchell, Seon Power, Daneil Cyrus and Robert Primus.
T&T looked untroubled in the early stages of the match, but were punished in the 16th minute when Hector slipped in the middle and French Guiana broke forward. Ludovic Balal took possession and slipped the ball to Darcheuoville Ducan, who collected untroubled atop the area before turning and firing low past a stranded Williams to put French Guiana 1-0 ahead.
T&T tried to hit back immediately as a minute later Gay saw his effort going inches wide of the far left post after Hector's cross from the right found him just inside the box. Moments later, Hector also had an effort narrowly missing the target.
T&T began to find momentum and pushed forward in search of the equaliser against a French Guiana side that included defender Lesly Malouda, who plays for French club Dijon FCO and is the brother of Chelsea winger Florent Malouda.
Daniel, coming off a series of sterling performances for the Philadelphia Union in the American MLS, brought his A-game to Warner Park and was easily T&T's player of the match. He had two close efforts before T&T eventually equalised. Daniel was sturdy on the defensive as well.
The ex-Caledonia AIA midfielder was involved in the build up to the opening T&T goal. He found Jones, who played a one-time ball, and Hector did the rest, clinically firing past Rudy Merille in the 25th minute.
Nine minutes later, Theobald, another solid performer for T&T on the evening, served one from the left on a platter for the lurking Gay, who stabbed home from close range to push T&T 2-1 ahead.
The Soca Warriors forced four corners just before the interval, but were unable to stretch their lead as their opponents did everything to keep themselves in the game.
On the resumption, T&T still could not pull further ahead, and were somewhat lethargic at times as the game approached the hour mark. Charles could be heard screaming instructions for his players to "step forward", the head coach realising that a two-goal advantage was crucial at that stage.
Hector forced Merille to save from a tight angle, and Williams had to save low to deny Ducan after some miserable work by T&T around the penalty box on 56 minutes.
Then came Daniel's superb strike. From a Hector right side corner, Mitchell headed down for Daniel to unleash a left-footed volley that left Merille without a prayer.
Theobald then combined with Daniel, who unselfishly laid the ball across for Plaza to bury from close range for T&T's fourth item.
The victory was welcomed by Charles, who had earlier been sent from the bench by Cuban referee Marcos Despaigne for questioning the official's failure to blow for a rash challenge on Theobald in the 86th minute. "I thought we produced the kind of football that gave us just the right start for the tournament," Charles told TTFF Media Officer, Shaun Fuentes. "We came into this match under some pressure of course, because we know a lot of eyes were on us because of everything that was taking place. I thought the guys executed well. We had a shaky start but I was pleased with the way we regrouped and bounced back. We had a couple clear cut chances and even though we failed to put them away, the guys kept going at French Guiana.
"I thought the French Guiana team was not a bad one by any means. They had some players who understand their roles well, and they played with a lot of determination and were organised at times. But we also got our act together, and it showed with the final scoreline."
Skipper Williams added: "It didn't come easily. I thought the game was well played. It was the first time we had the chance to play together in an international game. It augurs well for our future games. The key for us was staying together. We showed that strength, passion, and we strive to do well for the country."
1. Jan Michael Williams, 5. Carlyle Mitchell, 3. Joevin Jones, 12. Robert Primus, 20. Seon Power, 17. Daneil Cyrus, 7. Hughtun Hector (2. Clyde Leon, 88'), 19. Keon Daniel, 18. Densill Theobald, 11. Kevon Carter (14. Willis Plaza, 79') 15. Jamal Gay (10. Richard Roy, 69')
Subs that did not play—Marvin Phillips, Curtis Gonzales, Kareem Moses, Devorn Jorsling
1. Rudy Merille, 2. Michael Rimane (5.Serge Lesperance, 67'), 4. Rhdy Evens, 10. Lesly Malouda, 3. Marvin Torvic, 7.Albert Ataiso, 9. Darcheuoville Ducan, 6. Ludovic Balal, 12. Samuel Sophie, 15.Nekie Adipi (11.Gary Pigree, 75'), 16. Cary Marigard.
Subs that did not play—Choune Ho-Meou, Francois Sampain, Miguel Haabo, Stephan Clet, Jean Petot-Homme