TT and St Kitts/Nevis will be vying for the top spot in Group C of the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship Qualifiers, and a berth in the five-team Final Round phase, today.
The final set of games, in the round-robin group, will be contested today at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, with TT facing Grenada at 6.30 pm, following the clash between St Kitts/Nevis and the United States Virgin Islands, which is slated to begin at 4 pm.
Both TT and St Kitts/Nevis have seven points apiece, with TT having a goal difference of plus 13 and St Kitts/Nevis’ goal difference is plus 11. The Final Round, featuring the respective five group winners (including Cuba and Jamaica) will be staged at a venue to be determined from August 25 to September 3. Three teams from the Final Round will move on to the eight-team CONCACAF Championship, in the US, from October 4-17.
Three teams from the CONCACAF Championship will earn automatic spots to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
With so much at stake, Friday’s top-of-the-table encounter between TT and St Kitts/Nevis was extremely crucial. Both captains scored from dead-ball situations as the match ended 1-1.
Phoenetia Browne scored with a second minute penalty for the visitors before Tasha St Louis knotted the scores, courtesy of a freekick, in the 79th minute.
On Wednesday night, in a live television interview, former TT captain Maylee Attin-Johnson bemoaned the lack of intensity shown, in recent matches, by the current national squad.
Veteran national women’s coach Jamaal Shabazz, speaking at the post-game media conference on Friday, pointed out, “Sometimes we’ve got to fight. Fighting sometimes is good for you and (on Friday) it proved good for us.”
In his typical comical style, Shabazz expects his charges to have little to no mercy on the Grenadian outfit today.
“We’ve got to go, and try to batter Grenada,” he said. “Grenada (is) accustomed with hurricane and storm. My mother and my grandfather (are) from Grenada. They’ll know what to expect.”
TT failed in their bid to qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. From that team, Attin-Johnson and Ahkeela Mollon are in the infancy of their coaching careers, Kennya Cordner is playing in Sweden, North America-born players Arin King, Brianna Ryce and Lauryn Hutchinson have been off the scene for a couple years, while seasoned goalkeeper Kimika Forbes and midfielder Dernelle Mascall have not featured at all this year.
Shabazz has turned to new and younger faces, such as defender Jenelle Cunningham, winger Summer Arjoon, striker Aaliyah Prince and the midfield duo of Naomie Guerra and Kedie Johnson for this bunch of qualifiers.
“This is part of the growth,” Shabazz acknowledged. “This game would have enabled us to get something out of it. If we can form that into a benefit, then we would have grown.
“People want me to say ‘we would qualify for France’ but we’ve got to take it in stages.”
Attin-Johnson, on Wednesday, slammed Shabazz for his perceived negativity towards the team’s 2019 World Cup prospects, and repeatedly said that she will not make a return to the squad under the coaching duo of Shabazz and Marlon Charles – who have both been involved in TT women’s football since the 1990s.
Shabazz, who admitted that he did not see the televised interview by the 31-year-old Attin-Johnson, pointed out, “This is my ‘daughter’ and, sometimes, daughters say hurtful things to fathers. But you have to accept (it) because she is a girl who always speaks her mind.
“It’s no problem for us. We have to agree this is her opinion. This is my daughter in football and I love her very, very much.”
Earl Jones, St Kitts/Nevis coach, lauded the performance of his goalkeeper Kyra Dickinson, who produced a number of brilliant saves to repel the TT attackers.
“She was very excellent,” said Jones. “Coming up against such a powerhouse like Trinidad, my goalkeeper (said) ‘coachman, I’m not going to let you down’.”
Reflecting on St Louis’ equaliser, which struck the goalie’s right fingertips on its way to goal, Jones said, “(Dickinson) tried but it was well-executed.”
Jones sounded a warning to the US Virgin Islands team. “We come here not to lie down. We’re taking it to the USVI because it’s a do-or-die,” he said. “We’re going down to the last game, I guarantee you that.”