By LASANA LIBURD
AFTER 270 minutes of football, the Trinidad and Tobago national football team got their first point of the 2002 Concacaf World Cup qualifying final round yesterday with a 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Queen’s Park Oval.
In a game where either team seized momentum only to concede it through petulant use of the arm, the Soca Warriors would rue three lost points but could hardly feel aggrieved by the result.
Nor should the visiting El Tricolor outfit for that matter.
The pre-game cross talk between the Trinidad and Tobago and Mexican Football Federations suggested 90 minutes of open warfare but, in the end, yesterday’s qualifier could be described as football’s answer to chess.
The play was gripping and thoughtful but was much too tight to please the crowd of roughly 10,000 persons grown accustomed to the swashbuckling football of the semi-final rounds.
Trinidad and Tobago and Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke was the afternoon’s main casualty.
There were two neat spin moves by Yorke and one shot that just missed the far post but, those rare moments apart, the Tobagonian was as restricted as the two Lincoln Navigators held, at present, by the local Port Authority.
To the relief of the local crowd though—and no doubt embattled coach Ian Porterfield as well—the T&T defence was almost as economical and generally offered protection to goalkeeper Clayton Ince.
It was a far cry from the team that were gunned down 3-0 away to Costa Rica a month ago if only in terms of their patience and discipline while defending.
And, after 194 barren minutes, T&T finally opened their “goals for” account.
Fourteen months ago, it was Scottish-based defender Marvin “Dog” Andrews who gave Porterfield his first goal in the opening 2002 World Cup qualifier against Netherland Antilles.
Yesterday afternoon, with the Soca Warrior’s World Cup ambitions in the balance, he provided an encore.
From a left side corner kick, Andrews rose to meet an inswinging Angus Eve cross with a firm downward header that bumped off the ground and into the roof of Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez’s net.
There was a brief rise in aggression soon after but three quick yellow cards by Kuwaiti referee Kameel Saad Mane—one for T&T’s Anthony Rougier and two for Mexico’s German Villa and Rafael Marquez—kept the game well under control.
Then came Eve’s error of judgement.
Mane was talking to lanky stopper T&T Dennis Lawrence when Mexican left wing back Marco Antonio Ruiz went down clutching his face.
A check by Mane with his assistant revealed the home fans’ worst fears and Eve was sent to the showers for improper use of his forearm.
If the visitors felt that three points were now there for the taking, though, they had another thing coming.
By the interval, the Mexicans were in control stroking the ball from side to side but unable to get to the flanks—their favoured mode of attack—thanks to the patient and disciplined work of their opponents.
Yugoslav coach and new T&TFF “defensive co-ordinator” Zoran Vranes may have been forgiven a curt smile in the dressing room.
There would be a more in-depth test of the Joe Public coach’s credentials after the break, though.
On went livewire midfielder Jesus Arellano and Jared Borgetti, the T&T’s tormentor in chief last October with a hattrick in their 7-0 win at the Azteca Stadium, and something always looked likely to give.
It would be on the end of the red, white and blacks.
The Warriors dug in creditably but could only preserve their clean sheet for another 15 minutes before Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo brought the guests on level terms with a right footer which surprised custodian Clayton Ince.
In his defence, Ince could hardly have gotten a good look at the ball with the majority of his teammates, at the time, defending at the edge of his box.
The game had finally swung the way of the green, red and whites.
Fourteen minutes later, it swished the other way as Marquez was given marching orders for handling the ball from a Mexican corner kick.
It was a shocking piece of amateurism for a defender who is rumoured to be just months away from a US$20 million move from French team Monaco to European giants Real Madrid.
Still Mexico had the best chance to take all three points.
With just ten minutes remaining, the skilful Arellano turned inside Elcock and feinted past Rougier before his left footed attempt deflected obligingly for Borgetti.
The small group of Mexican travellers rose to their feet in expectation but, Borgetti got his co-ordinations embarrassingly wrong and sidefooted the ball harmlessly wide at Ince’s far post.
It was the luck of the green that Porterfield had pleaded for in a pre-game match conference on Monday.
More than Andrews’ header, though, it was Borgetti’s blunder that handed the Warriors a World Cup lifeline although they remain at the foot of the six team table.
They would hope to make good use of it, in three weeks time, when Honduras come visiting.
By Irving Ward
TRINIDAD and Tobago skipper Russell Latapy and his teammates remained at the bottom of the CONCACAF Zone 2002 World Cup mountain yesterday, after Mexico snatched a 1-1 draw in their crucial third-round encounter at the Queen's Park Oval.
The result, although giving the home side its first point of the campaign, left T&T rooted to the bottom of the six-team table.
And, pending the results of last night's other two group games between leaders United States and Costa Rica and Jamaica/Honduras, yesterday's result may yet come back to haunt T&T down the road.
However, Latapy's side, and midfielder Angus Eve in particular, have only themselves to blame for the loss of two vital home points.
Eve left his teammates out in the cold after he foolishly played into Mexico's hands in the 34th minute when he was sent off for retaliating against Antonio Ruiz.
The ejection, which came in the 34th minute, turned the game on its head, neutralising what had been a brilliant start and leaving T&T fighting desperately to preserve its slim lead.
Putting on a game face, Latapy's men - ironically urged on by a surprisingly small crowd estimated at 9,000 - fought hard, but finally yielded just after the hour mark when Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo got the equaliser for the visitors.
World Cup history will show, though, that it is still possible to come back from such a slow start. And with another home stand against Honduras on June 16, Latapy's side will have to keep the faith and dig even deeper in its quest to take T&T to its first-ever World Cup finals. Yesterday's game started well enough for coach Ian Porterfield and his new technical staff, though.
After weathering an early storm from the Mexicans, T&T - with five changes to the team which lost 3-0 to Costa Rica - took a 15th-minute lead through Scotland-based Marvin Andrews. The Livingston defender arrived unmarked inside the six-metre box to head a left-side Eve cross past the desperate lunge of Mexican goalie Oscar Sanchez.
Thriving on the energy of the opening goal, the T&T midfield - led by Latapy, Ronnie Mauge, Brent Rahim, given his first chance to start, and Eve, pressed for another goal.
But Eve would then throw away everything T&T had worked for by giving the Mexicans, known for their unsportsmanlike tactics, the opening they were hoping for just after the half-hour mark. The play which sparked the nonsensical sending off, did not even involve Eve.
Anthony Rougier was fouled by Mexican striker Antonio de Negris and referee Kameel Saad Mane, having awarded T&T a free kick, had actually been talking to Lawrence some distance away after he stepped in to push the player from his T&T teammate.
Off the ball, Ruiz spat on Eve and the Joe Public player - who had been used to promote T&T's war campaign in the build-up to the match - lost his head and elbowed his man in full view of the entire Oval.
Ruiz bundled over clutching his face, and after the Mexicans protested, referee Mane consulted with one of his assistants before producing the red card.
T&T then held on till the break but the Mexicans pressed hard for the equaliser immediately after the restart.
And, after again initially holding off the opposition, T&T relinquished the lead. After Ince had managed to parry an effort from substitute Jared Borguetti, the T&T defence failed to clear the loose ball far enough down field.
The ball eventually made its way to Pardo and he unleashed a powerful right-footer from 22 metres out into the upper right-hand corner of Ince's net. Thereafter, T&T fought desperately for another goal.
But the visitors countered with swarming defence and the odd, swift counter-attack. And although they lost Rafael Marquez to a second yellow card 15 minutes from the end, they kept T&T out to preserve a crucial point.