Trinidad & Tobago took sole leadership of Group A, and a psychological advantage into the semi-final of the Caribbean Football Union Women’s Under-20 Finals, with a decisive 3-1 victory over second place team Cuba.
In a fast-paced, physical, rain soaked and talent-laced contest, one which many spectators described as the best of the Tournament to date, Trinidad & Tobago imposed early pressure on Cuba, and used a collective height advantage to great effect when passing the ball through the air. Though the encounter was free-flowing game in nature, the Soca Princesses were more aggressive in attack and defence, and their combination of short passes along the flanks and longer passes through the centre paid off in the 40th minute, when Patrice Campbell took advantage of a deflection to beat Cuba’s goalkeeper Monica Padilla to make the score 1-0. The Cuban team pressed hard afterward to restore parity, but the first half ended with a Trinidad & Tobago advantage.
From the shrill of the Referee’s whistle at the resumption of play, the Cuban team raised the level of intensity in pursuit of the equaliser, and forced Trinidad & Tobago’s defenders further back in their half with fast diagonal runs from the wings. Their tenacity was duly rewarded in the 45th minute, when a superb kick of the dead ball fell to the Tournament’s leading goal-scorer, Yoanna Calderon Gonzanez, who made no mistake in getting the ball past goalkeeper Tenesha Palmer to make the score 1-1. With vocal support for both teams, the players increased the pace, skill level and physicality of the game, providing increasing entertainment for the appreciative fans. Trinidad & Tobago, however, scored the second goal in almost identical fashion to Cuba’s first, from a free kick. The floating shot to the right of goal was collected by the Captain, Anique Walker, who drove powerfully past the goalkeeper to breach the Cuban goal in the 67th minute. This did not deflate the Cuban ladies, who continued to attack and counterattack in pursuit of their second goal. The Soca Princesses, however, dented their hopes in the 71st minute, when Jonelle Warrick scored Trinidad & Tobago’s third goal.
Even at this stage, however, Cuba kept running hard at the ball and began to combine short passes at the sides of the 18 yard box and cross diagonally into goal, and their efforts came close to success when a firm shot from Ollancy Gainza forced a desperate save from goalkeeper Tenesha Palmer. Though no more goals were scored, the game’s entertainment value was kept at a premium right to the final whistle, after 93 (90+3) minutes of play.
With Trinidad & Tobago obtaining the maximum 9 points from three matches, and Cuba earning 6 from the same number of games, both teams qualify for the semi-finals. The physical nature of the contest took its toll, however, with yellow cards for Cuba’s Eliane Acosta and Captain Regla Ponce Martinez, and similar punishment for Trinidad & Tobago’s Patrice Campbell and Khadisha Debesette.
Though the Anguilla and Grenada teams have been winless in the Tournament, their encounter in the first game of the doubleheader, reflected more purpose than in their previous meetings with Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago. Both teams pursued the ball with strong intent, but it was the Anguillans who demonstrated greater organization in the first twenty minutes of the game, and their efforts met success in the 22nd, when the Captain, Coleen Johnson, fired low and hard past goalkeeper Akima Charles to breach the Grenadian goal. The score remained the same at the end of the first half. Grenada came out strongly at the start of the second half and made good on their threats to the Anguillan goal, when Ariba Collins found the back of the net in the 52nd minute. Though both teams tried desperately to find the winner, and with it, their first points of the Tournament, that was not to be and the encounter ended 1-1, confirming their exit from the Finals.
The final matches of the Group stage will take place today Wednesday October 23, when Suriname challenge St. Kitts/Nevis and Jamaica face off against the Dominican Republic for top honours in Group B.