Talk about making an impact
Atullah Guerra proved to be the super sub last night when he came on to get the winning goal for Trinidad and Tobago in a Group Eight Caribbean Cup semi-final qualifier at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet, Tobago. The Soca Warriors beat Cuba 1-0 to top the group with seven points, three clear of the second-placed Cubans.
Guerra was on barely a minute after replacing W Connection's Hasim Arcia, when he almost ripped a hole in the Cuban net to give T&T a 67th minute lead. Midfielder Guerra initially tried to spring centre forward Richard Roy, but when the ball was blocked, it rebounded to him and he shot with force, pummelling the ball into the net.
Hughtun Hector almost added another five minutes later, sending Cubans slipping in every direction with a mazy run through the penalty area. He then picked out Keyon Edwards who might have scored at the back post had he flung his frame at the ball. So close.
The crowd was on its feet. Best play of the match.
T&T were already through to next month's Caribbean Cup Final without kicking a ball, Suriname doing the job for them by eliminating St Vincent & the Grenadines earlier with a 1-0 victory. The early result booked both the Warriors and the Cubans a trip to Antigua and Barbuda for next month's Caribbean Final.
What was left to be decided was who won the group. T&T will now end up in Group B at the Caribbean Finals, along with hosts Antigua & Barbuda, Martinique and the winners of qualifying Group Six. Cuba go into Group A with defending champions Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Group Six runners-up.
Cuba and T&T were inseparable at the end of a goalless first half in which both teams played well and also had chances to score.
The Soca Warriors got good support from the locals, many of whom view the game with disdain nowadays. And coach Hutson Charles appeared to have lifted his Warriors yet another time.
T&T looked well worth a goal in that first period. Left midfielder Hector came close in just the second minute with a firm, low shot which Cuban goalkeeper Julio Pichardo turned around the near post. Adventurous left midfielder Joevin Jones came even closer, unleashing a "hot" one from distance when cutting infield and forcing Pichardo to tip the shot over the Cuban crossbar. A good build-up and combination play between centre forward Richard Roy and Hasim Arcia also drew a loud cheer despite Arcia turning his shot wide.
"T&T we want ah goal," fans chanted.
Cuba also had travelling support of about 15, blowing their version of a vuvuzela and making plenty noise. The Cuban footballers also gave them reason to cheer with two good first half chances, both falling the way of Robert Linares. The burly man twice almost benefitted from T&T defensive mix-ups, once hitting an upright, and also finding the midriff of an out-of-position T&T keeper Jan Michael Williams.
Both teams traded chances early in the second half when winger Ariel Gonzales forced goalie Williams down low to the near post to push away a shot. And at the other end, Roy shot from the edge of the penalty area, but drove his low effort wide. Cuba hung around in the second half, but looked well contained.
And then Guerra struck.