CONCAF Gold Cup: Haiti beat Trinadad and Tobago
Haiti’s 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago on Friday evening has blown Group B of the Gold Cup wide open. Honduras’s two wins out of two games places them top of the pack, with Haiti (three points), El Salvador (one) and Trinidad (one) playing catch-up. Trinidad headed into this all-Caribbean clash on the back of a resilient performance against El Salvador, where they fought back from 2-1 down late on to snatch a draw. Haiti, on the other hand, would have felt hard-done by their opener. They played some brilliant stuff but were not clinical enough, consequently losing to Honduras.
So, Friday’s match was pivotal. The last time they had played each other was in the Caribbean Cup group stages last year, which ended in a stalemate. Just a mere 150 spectators had turned up to watch that match. This time though, 28,000 fans were in attendance at the Sun Life Stadium, the vast majority being colourful Haitian supporters, to cheer on the two teams.
Coach Israel Blake Cantero’s side were much better with the ball at their feet. A man was always available, the forwards were always moving. Haiti were first to every ball, every challenge, every header. They didn’t allow Trinidad – who looked dejected after conceding – to instil any sort of rhythm to their game. The aforementioned Louis, an enigmatic figure who was on the brink of not travelling with the squad to the US due to reported disciplinary reasons, was ever-present. Usually a winger, Cantero intelligently moved him infield and requested he played a central role where he could dictate the tempo. It paid off.
It looked ominous for manager Stephen Hart’s men at half-time. The former Canadian chief had a big pep talk coming up. He had to rejuvenate his troops, inject some belief into them. He knew the importance of this fixture. Lo and behold, the Soca Warriors came out after the break revitalised. Ipswich Town’s Carlos Edwards, who was playing on the left wing, cut inside and swung in a devilish cross to the back post. Kenwyne Jones,who scored to salvage a point in the opener, rose highest but his header crashed against the post. Maybe it just wasn’t their day.
As the game wore on, Trinidad began to throw more and more players forward in hope of nicking a goal, but Haiti were quick to pounce when the ball broke free and just seven minutes following the interval, Maurice grabbed his second of the night after some direct running from Yves Desmaret. It was 2-0. It was game over.
Maurice told the press through a translator.
“That first goal gave us a tremendous lift. In the previous [Gold Cup] game, I didn’t play as well because of an injury. Thankfully, I was able to score early and we were able to play with more confidence afterwards.”
There were few highlights after that. Trinidad had arguably the better team on paper, but failed to translate it onto the pitch. Darryl Roberts – who plays his football in Turkey – was forcing things wide right, Jones didn’t get enough service, substitute Kevin Molino was too occupied fouling his opponents rather than taking on his man, while KRC Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland was non-existent.
Ever since Haiti’s friendlies in early June, they have continued to improve. They were so unlucky against Spain and yielded a historic draw versus Italy. Then they impressed in warm-up matches in the US. Things are looking bright. “Although the country has suffered, Haiti plays football with joy,” Cantero said.
Trinidad knew their opposition’s capability beforehand. Director of Football Leo Beenhakker was under no illusions. “They are a very athletic team and their players are quick and strong,” the Dutchman said. ”It will not be easy.”
Among the Haitian-dominated crowd was American football star Pierre Garçon, who was born in New York but has parents who hail from Haiti. The Washington Redskins wide receiver had the chance to visit the changing room and praise the goal scorer Maurice after the final whistle.
The next set of Group B matches are to be played tonight. Haiti face El Salvador; and if they win, they will have six points in the bag and will almost definitely ensure qualification to the knock-out phase. Hart’s men, meanwhile, will have to put everything into Honduras who are more or less through.
The competition undertook a fantastic opening, and the trend appears to be continuing with things just as tight in the other groups.