Jamaica, T&T showdown
REGIONAL powerhouses Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will battle for the CFU Men's Caribbean Cup football championship title tonight at Montego Bay Stadium, St James, starting at 8 p.m.
Winning the title will secure a major landmark for either team, as they will claim a spot in the prestigious Centennial Cup America.
This first-time tournament - held to commemorate the centenary celebrations of the South American football association, CONMEBOL - will take place in the United States and has historical attachments.
It combines the CONCACAF Gold Cup and South American championship, Copa America. And the latter will be held outside the continent for the first time.
By qualifying for the CFU Men's Caribbean Cup final, both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago had already knocked off one target: securing qualification for next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
That advance came automatically for the top-four teams in this eight-nation CFU Finals, including Haiti and last year's winners, Cuba, who will battle for third in this evening's curtain-raiser that is set to kick off at 5 p.m.
Those two have each won the title once. However, the teams lined up for the feature presentation are true Caribbean kings, having shared 13 of the 16 CFU titles.
Trinidad and Tobago hold a distinct advantage, with eight successes.
As all their titles were netted in the first 11 stagings - the last coming 13 years ago in 2001 - the Trinidadians have been sleeping giants. This also strengthens their desire for success.
"We came here with two objectives, one was the Gold Cup, the other was to get into the final and give ourselves the opportunity to win the Caribbean Cup," outlined Stephen Hart, coach of the Trinidad and Tobago team.
He added: "We are in the final and we need a result. Jamaica are always tough opposition to face and will be dangerous in any final."
Though they have cuddled the championship feel more recently, the Jamaicans are no less hungry for the title.
The tournament presented a path to redemption, as the entire football organisation, including the administrators, players and coaches, were under pressure. This is because the team lost match after match - under tough circumstances with long travel and practically no rest most of the times - and their FIFA ranking plummeted to 113 through the past year.
This is well below Trinidad and Tobago's 49, and that of several other teams in the tournament. Despite the disparity, Jamaicans consider their team superior to practically every one in the region; and to a degree, it made nothing short of winning the tournament enough for the locals.
"The tournament is not finished, we have one more match. Now we have to work to make preparation," noted Reggae Boyz head coach Winfried Sch‰fer.
Now the Reggae Boyz are at the doorstep, rising after the uncertain start of a 1-1 draw against Martinique, to record back-to-back wins against Antigua and Barbuda (3-0) and Haiti (2-0).
"The team showed good character," said Jamaica captain Rodolph Austin. "We started out with a draw and we came back and won two matches.
"We're going into the final with a positive thing going," he added. "After the first game, we came together and said we've to fight for everything, we've to fight to the last whistle ... we want to die for each other."
Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors qualified for the final following wins in their first two games - 3-2 - over CuraÁao and French Guiana, then tying goalless with Cuba in their last group contest.
The teams have expended a lot of energy getting to this stage, with matches every other day in an eight-day championship.
Having played their semi-final a day earlier, the Trinidadians have the advantage of one day to recover for this final battle. Both squads have talent, so Hart and Sch‰fer have numbers from which to choose.
Kevin Molino, who has been making a name for himself in the USA Leagues, emerged as the main player for the Soca Warriors with three goals in two games, while Kenwyne Jones, who netted a double in their opening win, has English Premier League experience, height and strength that also carry danger. Atualla Guerra and Lester Peltier have also been among their scorers at this tournament and pose a threat.
For the Reggae Boyz, feisty Darren Mattocks, who has scored a goal-a-game, has been leading the lines with a lot of energy and decent finishing. Sch‰fer has altered his front combination and has got more creativity and finishing through the addition of Simon Dawkins, with Joel McAnuff and Austin throwing some heavy punches from midfield.
a lot more talent
There is a lot more talent on the Jamaica team, but as shown throughout the championship, they can fluctuate between excellent and poor.
One area, however, where they have remained consistent is defence, which has been making a difference.
It is this very area in which Trinidad and Tobago have been found wanting, twice conceding a double and keeping a clean sheet against a Cuba team missing their shooting boots. This defect is not lost on Hart.
"I am expecting a lot more urgency on the defensive end of things, as I am a little disappointed in how the defence have been carrying out their job," the former Canada national coach said.
"The defence line is working fine; it's the individual mistakes that are worrying. All these things we will have to be better focused on, and if we don't do that, the final will be a tough assignment for us."
- The Gleaner's Western Bureau reporter Paul Clarke also contributed to this article.