Reon Moore

GOING AERIAL: Trinidad and Tobago winger Reon Moore goes airborne in attempting to gather the ball during their 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifier against French Guiana in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, on Tuesday. The teams played to a 1-1 draw, necessitating kicks from the penalty mark to break the deadlock. T&T advanced 8-7 via that route, to secure a berth at the 16-nation CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting Saturday. —Photo courtesy TTFA

Following their nail-biting penalty kicks eliminator victory over French Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago’s senior men’s footballers were due to depart Boca Raton, Florida, at 2 p.m. yesterday on a CONCACAF charter flight to Dallas en route to their opening Gold Cup Group stage match against Mexico on Saturday.

The tournament’s second match which will be played from 10 p.m. (T&T time) at the A T&T stadium, Arlington, Texas. T&T played to a tense 1-1 draw with French Guiana, before prevailing 8-7 in kicks from the penalty spot, goalkeeper Nicklas Frenderup making a crucial stop.

Following their safe passage to the group stage of the Gold Cup, the Soca Warriors engaged in both prayer and celebrations. Young defender Jesse Williams led a vociferous team prayer and thanksgiving, before they had a late-night team building victory celebration—bottle and spoon style—with a few supporters well socially distanced. The Soca Warriors, both players and staff, were in great voice, loudly singing Farmer Nappy’s “Hooking Meh.”

At the post-match press conference, Eve commended his Warriors for having dug deep against French Guiana and said they will also face CONCACAF giants Mexico bravely on Saturday. “We are going against Mexico, but that is where we want to be,” Eve declared.

“We want to be playing against the best teams in the region to keep testing ourselves and proving ourselves. This is our rebuilding, and we just want to go into that and enjoy the group stage.”

For that match, Eve hopes to have available captain Khaleem Hyland, Triston Hodge and Judah Garcia, all suffering muscle injuries and being treated and assessed by the medical team. However, Eve said that while all of his 23-man squad are good enough to play, he might also strengthen his squad if he loses the injured trio.

“We have until 24 hours before the match to bring in players. We had some players on standby and some of them called in the week and they still can’t make it,” Eve said. “But definitely, we need some players.”

Given that he inherited the team with just over a week to prepare; Covid-19 restrictions; local football having not been played since March 2020 and the poor financial state of the local Association; Eve is especially pleased with the effort of his side against French Guiana.

“We have done more than we should have done so far,” he said. “This was our goal coming here. We had a very short space of time to prepare. We just came out of a failed World Cup campaign and there is a lot of emotion right now in our dressing room at this point in time because we are doing it for our country, not just for us.”

Having lost the opportunity to scout French Guiana following the cancellation of their first qualifier against Cuba, Eve admitted that the South Americans who share a border with Brazil, were mystery opponents, although it was known that their team would have contained several players contracted in France. “We went in blind. They definitely did their homework. They sat deep and they tried to stifle the pace that we have up front. Kudos to them, they played a fantastic game today. Good players, good coach,” said Eve.

“What we tried to do at the half was get some midfielder who could tackle (Curtis Gonzales) in there. We were forced with the subs actually after injuries, and we tried to stablise the midfield and play on the counter-attack and try as best as possible to break the lines because they sat very deep.”

2021 CONCACAF GOLD CUP GROUP STAGE:

Group A: Mexico, El Salvador, Curaçao and T&T

Group B: USA, Canada, Martinique and Haiti

Group C: Costa Rica, Jamaica, Suriname and Guadeloupe

Group D: Honduras, Panama, Grenada and Qatar

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