I wrap up the 2017 Gold Cup qualifiers as Haiti clinched fifth place and progressed to the CFU-UNCAF playoff…
**You can check out the 2016/17 Caribbean Cup coverage here.**
Just 12 months after his official unveiling as Haiti manager, Patrice Neveu announced his resignation, claiming he had not been paid for several months by the Federation Haitienne de Football. This was not ideal timing for the team with the Gold Cup qualifiers looming. Haitian-born Jean Claude Josaphat, who was assistant to Neveu and has extensive experience managing in the domestic league, was hired as Neveu’s successor at immediate notice. The point was made that Josaphat knew the players on a more personal level and he could use this to his advantage. It turned out to be an inspired managerial appointment.
Training camp helped
Les Grenadiers based themselves in Trinidad & Tobago from late December and played two friendlies against local clubs. They drew both games, 2-2, against W Connection on 30 December and Defence Force on 2 January. Although victory eluded them, these were still decent curtain-raisers before the main show: the playoff matches.
‘B’ squad came up trumps
It’s worth mentioning that Haiti were without the likes of captain Johnny Placide, Jeff Louis, Wilde-Donald Guerrier, Duckens Nazon, Max Hilaire, Reginal Goreux, James Marcelin, Kevin Lafrance, Jean-Marc Alexandre, Jean Sony Alcenat, Romain Genevois and Stephane Lambese. A lot of names there, right? Yet they were still able to yield maximum points and top the group.
This was more or less a ‘B’ squad that they called up. But the starting line-ups that they fielded were still competitive, underlining the strength in depth in their player pool. Some locally-based players were given an opportunity, such as goalkeeper Guerry Romondt, defender Samuel Pompee, midfielder Wilguens Aristilde and centre-forward Jonel Desire.
Josaphat favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in both matches with Sebastien Thuriere and Aristilde at the base of midfield, Kervens Belfort and Derrick Etienne Jr out wide and Charles Herold Jr playing in behind Desire. The full-backs Pompee and Alex Junior Christian often bombed on to support the team’s attacking moves. There was good balance to the side and they consistently looked dangerous in attack, supported by the fact they managed eight goals (four more than the other two teams).
Whether or not Josaphat will continue to use this squad or usher back in the majority of overseas-based players for the upcoming CFU-UNCAF playoff remains to be seen.
CFU-UNCAF playoff is winnable
The two-legged CFU-UNCAF playoff is certainly winnable for Haiti. With the Copa Centroamericana kicking off on Friday and Guatemala not there because of a FIFA ban, Central America’s traditional powers Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and probably El Salvador are expected to occupy the top four spots. Therefore it’s likely that Haiti will face either Belize or Nicaragua and they are more than capable of beating either of those opponents. The playoff should take place at some point in March just like in 2015.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Problems in the camp
Similarly to Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago were without some of their marquee players but for differing reasons. Here’s a breakdown below.
Kenwyne Jones? Dropped and stripped of the captaincy by recently installed head coach Tom Saintfiet, who cited ‘tactical reasons’ as justification for the veteran’s exclusion. 38-year-old Carlos Edwards – remember him? – was recalled and given the captain’s armband. Joevin Jones? Dropped and accused of having ‘no interest’ in representing his country. He was originally included in the Gold Cup qualifying squad and allowed to miss the Nicaragua friendlies due to playing a long season with Seattle Sounders, which culminated in MLS Cup triumph. Supposedly back home on holiday, Jones appeared in a friendly for his old club W Connection against Haiti (of all teams) whilst the national team were out in Nicaragua. According to Saintfiet, Jones didn’t show up for training in the New Year and as a result was left out. Jones responded by saying that his contact with Seattle didn’t enable him to play in the friendlies and he would arrive at training on New Year’s Day in the evening. By that time, Saintfiet had made up his mind. Marvin Phillip? Injured. Jan-Michael Williams? Overlooked following an argument between his employers Central FC and Saintfiet. Kevin Molino? The attacking midfielder told Saintfiet in advance that he would not be available for the training camp, including the Nicaragua friendlies and Gold Cup playoffs. He apparently didn’t feel motivated enough to play. Cordell Cato was also back home on holiday and named in the squad to face Nicaragua but accused of prioritising ‘holiday instead of training’. Daneil Cyrus and Jomal Williams? Both dropped after arriving to camp late and smelling of alcohol. They were immediately sent home. Cyrus insisted he was late because his car had a ‘flat tyre’ and that he doesn’t drink, before backtracking and admitting he had one glass of Bailey’s on New Year’s Day. Curtis Gonzalez, Akeem Roach and Trevin Caesar were called up as replacements for J Jones, Cyrus and Williams. Finally, Tristan Hodge was omitted from the squad for Nicaragua on ‘disciplinary grounds’ after Saintfiet said he turned up late for training. Khaleem Hyland, Sheldon Bateau and Levi Garcia all had club commitments hence their absences.
To say Saintfiet has made some controversial calls since his arrival would be an understatement.
Home advantage and extra recovery days
Let’s not forget that Trinidad & Tobago had a couple of factors swing in their favour. Firstly, all fixtures were played at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva so they were playing on home soil in front of their home supporters. Secondly, Saintfiet’s side had the luxury of three rest days in between playing Suriname and Haiti – two days more than the other two teams. So their players should have been fresher for the final game yet it was Haiti who twice took the lead in extra time, despite having played on the Friday.
Against Suriname, the team lacked rhythm and cohesiveness from an offensive point of view. If it wasn’t for a spectacular free-kick from Tyrone Charles with less than 10 minutes remaining, T&T would have lost that game in normal time. As it happened, they conceded in extra time and went onto lose 1-2. Against Haiti, they needed to win by a two-goal margin to qualify and began purposefully, twice taking the lead but Haiti replied each time. All four goals that they leaked were very sloppy from a defensive standpoint: switching off for Etienne Jr’s strike and failing to adequately mark for the three headers. Nice for Shahdon Winchester to net a hat-trick on his 25th birthday but a collective disappointment for T&T. This is the first time since 2011 that they won’t be appearing at the Gold Cup.
Saintfiet already treading on thin ice
Saintfiet’s job security is already in a perilous state and the Belgian is only a month into his tenure. From the very first press conference, TTFA president David John-Williams made it crystal clear that results were the priority and performances were secondary. So far Saintfiet’s record is as follows: four games played, three losses and one win. That sole win came on the road against Nicaragua, in the second of their two-match friendly series at the back-end of last month.
Patience is a virtue, as they say. The 43-year-old needs time to implement his ideology and familiarise himself with the players, right? Thing is, he’s arrived at a moment when Trinidad & Tobago simply don’t have that kind of time to work with. They need positive results and they need them fast. The next batch of Russia 2018 qualifiers are looming large – two home ties with Panama and Mexico await in March – and the Soca Warriors have to pick up points in both if they’re to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
When all is said and done, the blame will ultimately lie with Saintfiet should negative results ensue. After all, a direct John-Williams couldn’t have been clearer in that aforementioned press conference: “That should he [Saintfiet] not get the results on March 24th and 28th that he too will be looking for a job. He is laughing but we are very serious, because if we don’t get the results on the 24th and 28th, we might as well kiss our campaign goodbye.”
Call up best players for upcoming Hex matches
For me, if T&T seriously want to stay in contention for Russia 2018, then they must call up their best players. J-M Williams is needed back in between the sticks. Bateau is the side’s most accomplished central defender and is needed at the heart of defence. Hyland and Boucaud are needed in central midfield. J Jones has to play out wide – he offers a threat, that ability to dribble with the ball and create opportunities from nothing. Something more clinical and cutting edge is needed up front, too. Cornell Glen, Caesar and potentially one of Winchester or Roach will have to cut the mustard presuming K Jones will continue to sit out.
That is not to disregard the performances from some of the locally-based players over the last few weeks. San Juan Jabloteh wide men Nathan Lewis and Tyrone Charles looked good, particularly the latter who displayed pace, trickery and impressive set-piece execution. 20-year-old W Connection winger Aikim Andrews also caught the eye, scoring a beautiful volley from outside the 18-yard box in the 1-3 victory over Nicaragua. There is potential for these players to feature in the World Cup qualifiers but the core of the team that served former boss Stephen Hart so well at the beginning of his tenure has to be maintained.
Because, the reality is, if T&T call up the same squad for Panama and Mexico, they’ll be dealt heavy blows. Differences must be put aside for the sake of the country’s World Cup qualifying hopes.
First competitive win over T&T in over 30 years
4 January 2017 will always be a memorable date for those involved in Surinamese football. On that day the national team recorded their first competitive win over T&T since 1979. It was a match that went right down to the wire.
Super sub Rozenblad
Guno Kwasie put the visitors ahead with around 15 minutes left on the clock before Charles struck a terrific long-range free-kick to force extra time. The substitute Ivanildo Rozenblad scored the winning goal and what a goal it was. The SV Robinhood forward produced a thunderbolt that left Adrian Foncette helpless in the Trinbagonian net. Indeed, Rozenblad also scored the winner for his country against Guyana in Caribbean Cup second rounds qualifying, similarly coming off the bench to notch in extra time. He’s only 20 but looks to have an impressive knack of scoring important goals at important moments.
Punished for mistakes
Judging from the opening 15-20 minutes between Suriname and Haiti, there was only one team in the contest. Roberto Godeken’s men started better, their ball retention good and full-backs providing plenty of width. The diminutive Roxey Fer made himself a nuisance, finding pockets of space and twice being slipped in only to spurn his chances. But, such is football, Suriname were made to pay for individual errors by a more clinical Haitian team.
The captain Gilberto Eind had plenty of time on the ball to pick out his teammate. Instead, he seemingly panicked and rushed his pass, which deflected off Desire and a goal followed. Jean-Baptiste’s strike just about crept over the line. At half-time Suriname were trailing 0-2 and needed a focused start to the second half. That’s exactly what didn’t happen as Mitchell Kisoor’s weak backpass allowed Desire to run through and nutmeg the goalkeeper. To round off a bad day at the office, Gillermo Faerber scored an own goal to make it 0-4.
Not giving in
Credit to Suriname for not throwing the towel in and battling back in the final few minutes, though. Dimitrie Apai – the only foreign-based player in the squad – pulled one back with three minutes to go and Serginio Eduard got on the score-sheet in stoppage time. These were consolation goals but they did carry some significance in terms of how the group would play out: T&T now had to win by a two-goal margin against Haiti. As things transpired, they failed to do that.
By Nathan Carr