Hosts Jamaica are the 2014 Caribbean Cup champions after coming out on top in a tense penalty shoot-out in the final. Read on for analysis, reaction, highlights and more…
Group A – Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, Curacao, French Guiana
*Santokie Nagulendran is our Group A and Third Place match correspondent. Creator of the Guyanese Football Blog, Santokie is a regular columnist for Guyanese newspaper Kaieteur News. He has also written for World Soccer, IBWM and of course, The Home of Caribbean Football
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Best Team: Trinidad & Tobago
After scoring nine goals in their three qualifying games, Trinidad & Tobago entered the tournament very confident and in fine form. However, things could not have got off to worse start for The Soca Warriors as they went behind to Curacao in their first game after 18 minutes. They soon resurrected things, though, when Kenwyne Jones scored two quick goals to give the lead to Trinidad, one of which a penalty. But Curacao equalised through winger Gianluca Maria, before the in-form Kevin Molino ultimately bagged a superb winner for Trinidad. The 3-2 victory was a wake-up call: they were facing higher quality opposition now and could not afford to concede two goals in a game.
A 4-2 victory over French Guiana in their next game was hard-earned (see highlights above), Molino again finding the back of the net with two well-worked goals. Despite two shaky performances, after two games Trinidad were assured qualification to the final four and a spot at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. With that in mind, coach Stephen Hart rested key players for the final group tie against Cuba and the side played out a tame 0-0 draw, which gave them group victory and a place in the final against Jamaica. Despite not being as utterly dominant as they were in qualifying, Trinidad still assured their objective of early qualification into the final four. Their sheer attacking prowess in the form of Jones and Molino was enough for them to gain victories in games where their defensive deployment was questionable. On the whole, they were the best team in the group and lived up to their billing as tournament favourites.
Key Player(s): Kevin Molino
We might well have mentioned the name Kevin Molino once or twice before. As in the qualifiers, he was the group’s key player again. The attacking midfielder scored three goals in two games, including a fine winner against Curacao, and won two man of the match awards in the process. Considered so valuable to the team, he was rested for the final outing against Cuba having assured Trinidad early progress. Still young at the age of 24, quick and aware of where the goal is, it will be a joy to see how Molino fares against the best of CONCACAF in next year’s Gold Cup.
Surprise Team: French Guiana
French Guiana started their Caribbean Cup campaign way back in May, when they entered the preliminaries against the likes of Aruba and British Virgin Islands. Fast-forward to November, and the non-FIFA nation has just secured a fifth place finish in the final tournament that assures them of a CONCACAF play-off tie against Honduras in March next year to determine the final team to enter the Gold Cup. In fact, French Guiana would consider themselves unlucky not to have qualified for the final four, missing out by a single point to group runners-up Cuba, but they can be proud of the way they performed in the tournament.
A 94th minute equaliser by Mickaël Solvi in their opening game against Cuba had given French Guiana clear hope of progressing from the group. Despite a 4-2 loss to Trinidad in their following match, they entered their final fixture against Curacao knowing that a win could be enough to get through depending on the result of Cuba v Trinidad later that night. Displaying intent from the start, French Guiana raced into a 3-0 half-time lead and eventually won the game 4-1. However, it wasn’t to be enough as Cuba secured the point they needed later in the day to assure direct qualification.
A tournament to remember for French Guiana and should they achieve victory against Honduras in the play-off, it will be their greatest ever footballing achievement.
Game of the Group: Curacao 2-3 Cuba
Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Gold Cup is largely due to defender Orisbel Leiva’s 95th minute winner against Curacao, a goal that ultimately took Cuba into their last game against Trinidad aware that one point would be enough to qualify. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Curacao – who had also lost 3-2 to Trinidad just two days earlier – especially given they had to come from behind twice. A frenetic and pulsating encounter that either team could have won: this summed up the beauty of the Caribbean Cup.
Group A saw goals, goals, goals: 23 were scored over six games. While Trinidad and Cuba lived up to their billing as favourites to progress, it was a group that had twists and turns throughout. From French Guiana’s stoppage time equalizer against Cuba, to Cuba’s stoppage time equalizer against Curacao. While Trinidad would be unhappy at conceding so many goals, overall, they put in dominating performances in their first two games that really demonstrated their quality going forward. Cuba will be very disappointed with the manner of their performances and can consider themselves lucky that they managed to qualify. French Guiana will be consoled by the fact they have a further opportunity to make the Gold Cup. Curacao, meanwhile, who were the only team in the final tournament not to have made the same stage in 2012, will be bitterly disappointed not to have picked up a single point. To conclude, this was a captivating group that managed to provide a roller-coaster of emotions.
Group B – Jamaica (hosts), Martinique, Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda
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Best Team: Jamaica
This is a straightforward choice: the champions. There was a considerable amount of pressure on Jamaica before the Caribbean Cup to at least reach the final, and ideally then go onto win the trophy. They were hosts which brings added crowds and expectation. Their supporters demanded success, as did the coach Winfried Schaefer, and they dealt with this weight on their shoulders very impressively indeed. Following a shaky start in the group opener against Martinique, which they drew 1-1, Jamaica gathered momentum and swept aside Antigua 3-0 and Haiti 2-0. Their defensive solidity was clear to see as the team leaked just one goal in the whole competition, the lowest number out of all eight competing teams, and talented young goalkeeper Andre Blake won the Golden Glove award. This sturdiness at the back enabled Jamaica’s more creative players to express themselves and they reaped the rewards, with Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks notching three times. The friendlies they played in the lead up to the Caribbean Cup also helped in terms of building experience, familiarity and communication between players, even if all of them were defeats except a draw to Egypt. Schaefer and his squad can now take a break and relax until preparation begins for a busy 2015 calendar, which will see Jamaica participate in the Copa America and Gold Cup.
Key Player(s): Rodolph Austin, Emmanuel Sarki
The tirelessness, commitment and leadership of Jamaican captain Rodolph Austin proved pivotal in his team’s title triumph. The Leeds United man, who has previously been singled out for special praise by Schaefer for showing so much enthusiasm on and off the pitch during this summer’s friendlies, deservedly claimed the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Austin is an integral part of the Jamaican team for he has enough discipline to play the holding midfield role, but can also surge forward and get on the end of crosses in the box. He did just that in the second group match against Antigua as the ball was delivered in from the left hand side and Austin rose highest to nod it in, which ensured Jamaica got the three points with two minutes left on the clock. The Clarendon Parish-born midfielder is one of the most experienced members of the current Jamaican squad, having earned over 70 caps since his debut in 2004, and he continues to play a huge role going into next year and beyond.
Emmanuel Sarki was brought into the Haitian squad for the first time in their Caribbean Cup campaign. His story is an intriguing one. Born in Kaduna in Nigeria, the 26-year-old formerly represented the U-17, U-20 and U-23 teams of the African country before switching his allegiance to Haiti, for whom he qualifies through his maternal grandfather who was born on the island. A former Chelsea academy player – he was based there for four years – Sarki currently plays in Poland with Wisla Krakow in the Ekstraklasa. My knowledge of his ability was rather basic prior to the tournament, but the right sided midfielder certainly made an impression with his blistering pace, accuracy of crossing and link up play with the striker. In all four of Les Grenadiers’ games – three group and the third place playoff – Sarki was always among the thick of the action. He promises to be a very useful player indeed for next year’s Gold Cup.
Surprise Team: Antigua & Barbuda
The Benna Boys’ performances were a little underwhelming. They were solid in the last round and had a reliable defensive rearguard, however, in the finals this was somewhat lost as the team conceded seven goals, the second largest amount out of the eight teams. Antigua’s recruitment policy of bringing in players from the diaspora playing in the English lower leagues seemed to be working well, and they bolstered their roster ahead of the trip to Montego Bay. Aaron Tumwa (Farnborough), Alvin Jarvis (Shepshed Dynamo), Christopher Cordara-Soanes (Haringey Borough) and Jordan Smith (Stamford) were brought into the squad for the first time from the lower echelons of English football as manager Rolston Williams called upon 15 overseas-based players. This included Myles Weston of Southend United and Dexter Blackstock of Nottingham Forest, who unfortunately couldn’t play because of injury. It was a strong and competitive squad picked by the twin-island and there was a feeling that they could produce something and potentially create history by qualifying for the Gold Cup for the first time in their history. Admittedly they were placed in the tougher group, but not being able to register even one goal against either Jamaica or Martinique would have disappointed them. It is worth remembering Antigua’s best ever finish in the Caribbean Cup was a fourth place spot in 1998, and as a nation they are making strides, but this was one of the best squads they’ve ever had and the impetus was with them from previous rounds. It was just a shame from their point of view that after showing spirit to come from 2-0 down in the opener versus Haiti, the side couldn’t push on.
Game of the Group: Haiti 2-2 Antigua & Barbuda
This was a four-goal thriller which saw Haiti in cruise control in the first period, 2-0 up, but let their foot off the pedal after the break as Antigua roared back. Jean Sony Alcénat scored Haiti’s first after pouncing on a loose ball outside the Antiguan box and rounding the goalkeeper to squeeze it in. Kervens Belfort, who won the Golden Boot award along with Mattocks and Molino (3 goals each), had a tap-in following a superb run by Italian-based midfielder Pascal Millien. But credit to The Benna Boys for engineering a way back into proceedings with two quickfire goals within the space of two minutes; Weston curling in a left-footed effort before a bullet Peter Byers header on the hour mark salvaged a point.
Clearly, Jamaica will be delighted with their first place finish and subsequently going onto win the title. They were tipped to win the group and they achieved their aim, with Schaefer winning his first piece of silverware as boss. Haiti managed to progress having won just once, which some might say was slightly fortunate, but their attacking power meant they had the edge over Martinique, who lost out on a place in the Gold Cup on goal difference (-1 to Haiti’s +1). A mention for Les Matinino as they performed under par and not even former Real Madrid man Julien Faubert as captain could spark them into life. Often he looked isolated and fed up in games, particularly in the 0-3 defeat to Haiti, when he and his team simply couldn’t get going. They did well to hold Jamaica to a draw in the first match but that loss sandwiched in the middle knocked their confidence. It was always going to be a close race for second between Martinique and Haiti, and unfortunately for Louis Marianne’s men, it was goal difference which proved the difference. Antigua, meanwhile, will feel disheartened to leave the tournament having collected just one point. This was undoubtedly the tighter and more difficult group, reinforced by the fact eventual champions Jamaica were in it.
Third Place Match – Cuba 1-2 Haiti
Haiti faced Cuba to decide who would finish third in the tournament, yet low crowds in attendance for the game reflected the lack of importance the tie held: it had little but pride riding on it, with both teams already assured of Gold Cup qualification. After a slow first half, Jerome Mechack opened the scoring for Haiti in the 56th minute and Wilde Donald Guerrier made it 2-0 late on with a 86th minute goal. Ariel Martinez’s brilliant free kick just three minutes later served as a mere consolation goal for Cuba, who had an abundance of chances to score in the game. But they were simply not ruthless enough to tuck their chances away. So it ended 2-1 to Haiti, who finished the tournament on a high, but both teams will ultimately need to reflect on why they were not taking part in the final.
Final – Jamaica 0-0 Trinidad & Tobago AET, Jamaica won 4-3 on penalties
Video credit: ABSTV10.
There was initially some doubt over whether the final would take place as on the morning, Trinidad claimed they intended to boycott the match in protest against their federation due to financial issues. The TTFA is in huge debt and owes, according to reports, nearly $3million (could rise to 10m) to the players which includes unpaid salaries, match fees and bonuses. Coach Stephen Hart hasn’t been paid for eight months. The country’s government and Ministry of Sport has had to step in to resolve matters, paying the money to the players instead of the TTFA. Team captain Kenwyne Jones went on a rant on Facebook about the incompetence the federation has shown and said “the situation is dire.” Trinidad were never really going to boycott the final, instead it was more a way of embarrassing and showing up the TTFA and it seems to have worked. It was confirmed later in the afternoon that the final was back on and would kick off at the Montego Bay Sports Complex, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Jamaican supporters turned out in force and made lots of noise. After 90 minutes, neither team could break the deadlock as the game went into extra time and it remained 0-0. A penalty shoot-out was needed to decide things. This was where the leaders stood up and made themselves counted as the hosts prepared to shoot first. Jermaine Taylor scored away confidently for the first penalty of the shoot-out before Kenwyne Jones’s tame effort was saved by goalkeeper Andre Blake. This gave Jamaica the belief that they could go all the way, and several penalties later, Khaleem Hyland had to convert to avoid giving Jamaica the title. He blazed the ball over the bar, pulling his shirt over his head in shame, as the Jamaican players sprinted onto the pitch to celebrate their sixth Caribbean Cup title. Blake, especially, was mobbed by his teammates after an inspiring performance in the shoot-out. Maybe the mess in the morning unsettled The Soca Warriors as their minds were elsewhere. It was a compelling and dramatic climax to what was a fantastic tournament and possibly one of, if not the, best Caribbean Cups to date.
— Winfried Schaefer (@WinniSchaefer) November 20, 2014
Caribbean cup✅🏆 pic.twitter.com/ZZrcbOj4bz
— Jamar Loza (@jamardunga) November 19, 2014
— socawarriors (@socawarriors) November 21, 2014
Note: You can re-watch all of the Caribbean Cup games from Group B second matchday onwards, here on CONCACAF.com, courtesy of Digicel Sports Max
By site editor Nathan Carr and correspondent Santokie Nagulendran