Soca Warriors go down 7-6 on penalties to UAE

(Trinidad Express) Trinidad and Tobago’s senior men’s football team almost pulled off an amazing comeback victory in Riyadh yesterday, but the misery of the “Lottery” kicks had the final say with the game ending  in a 7-6 victory for the United Arab Emirates in the opening match of the 2013 OSN Cup at the King Fahd International Stadium.

The men in the Red created history by coming from three goals down to level the scores at 3-3 in added-on time to take the match into kicks from the penalty spot.  T&T had never before come from three goals down in an international tournament. But Columbus Crew midfielder Kevan George, a second half substitute making his debut for T&T, saw his penalty kick saved by goalkeeper Al Khaseif Housani, resulting in UAE’s passage into Sunday’s final.

T&T will now meet Saudi Arabia in Monday’s third-place playoff after the hosts were beaten 1-0 by New Zealand in yesterday’s second match, before a sparse but enthusiastic crowd.

The Soca Warriors recovered from a miserable start, trailing 2-0 at halftime after goals by Ismail Mohamed, a free header in the eighth minute from a left side corner, and a long range strike by Ali Ahmed Alhajeri in the 40th minute left UAE comfortably ahead.

Arriving in Riyadh just over 24 hours ahead of kick off, T&T struggled to settle in the first half, and playing in 42-degree (Celsius) temperature made it even tougher for skipper Kenwyne Jones and his teammates.

T&T did have their moments, with right winger Lester Peltier causing problems on the flank with his quick runs.

At the start of the second half Jones went close to pulling a goal back, but Emirates got a third goal which at that stage appeared to have been the final nail in T&T’s coffin. Midfielder Omar Alamoudi was clearly UAE’s most dangerous player on the pitch, and he played a clever ball into the box for Ahmed Aljunaibi to hit past Jan Michael Williams in the 54th to push UAE 3-0 in front.

Head coach Stephen Hart introduced Vietnam-based forward Willis Plaza in place of Ataullah Guerra who lined up alongside Racing Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud in the middle of the park. Plaza, last appearing for T&T in the Caribbean Cup in December,  found the target with his first touch of the ball in the 56th minute, sending a glancing header into the goal from Peltier’s right side cross. Plaza brought some added zest to T&T’s attack, and the visitors began taking the game to the Emirates.

Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino, who arrived in Riyadh at seven a.m. yesterday, was thrown on by Hart, and was unlucky to see his snap effort saved by Housani.

Soon after, Jones stepped up to clinically convert a penalty kick  in the 87th after Plaza was hacked down in the penalty box.

Molino, who had earlier replaced debutant Marcus Joseph,  then completed the late comeback when he guided his header home from Robert Primus’ left side delivery a minute into added-on time.

The game headed straight into penalty kicks. Andre Boucaud missed his kick, but Jones, Peltier, Radanfah Abu Bakr and Molino all converted for T&T. Williams kept T&T in the game when he blocked Majed Alahmadi’s attempt. And after Williams made another good stop, Plaza had the task of scoring what would have been the winner, but his tame effort was saved. Robert Primus and Justin Hoyte scored in sudden death, before George missed the final attempt.

T&T head coach Stephen Hart, though disappointed with a losing finish, commended his players for their courageous and determined showing in yesterday’s defeat to the United Arab Emirates.

“I’m pleased with the fact that we scored goals and  we showed a desire to come back from 3-0. That in itself is something we can take from this  game and build on,” Hart told TTFA Media.

“We knew the game would be difficult. I thought we were very sloppy in the first half both when in possession and particularly defensively. They created maybe three or four chances. We had a much better rhythm in the second half. Willis Plaza came on and did very well for us. He started to run behind, and Peltier started to get behind also and we got ourselves back in the game, and maybe could have even gone on to win it. Then of course anything was possible when it went to penalty kicks. “My intention was not to play Kevin (Molino) because of his late travel but he was on the edge of his seat. I thought he looked like he had that kind of enthusiasm and passion to come off the bench, and I gave him 20 minutes and he rewarded us with the tying goal.”

Captain Jones was equally pleased with the effort.

“We didn’t have a good first half by any means but we did a lot better in the second half. We showed great fight to come back and I don’t think this has ever happened in the history of the senior team, at least not for the past two decades or so. I think everyone from the staff to my teammates deserve credit for pulling off this kind of performance and comeback.

“Unfortunately,” Jones continued, “we lost out on penalty kicks, but I think this was a performance and a match that we could feel good about, and it shows some kind of progress with the national team from the Gold Cup. That is the most important thing for us at this stage.”

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