By Alistair Becker
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So said Joseph P Kennedy (1888-1969).
And it’s now time for St Vincent & the Grenadines to stand up and be counted as they enter Phase Two of this year’s Caribbean Cup. The second and third strongest sides in the region, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago respectively, will be providing stern opposition — as well as 2007 champions Haiti.
Perverse as it might sound, Sam Carrington’s side need look no further than their neighbours and rivals St Kitts & Nevis for inspiration. If they are to exit the competition here, then it’s worth losing in the manner of the Sugar Boyz. In Pool E they went down to hosts Grenada and Guadeloupe, but did so with a display of passion and resolve on top of fine attacking football. They were undeniably the better side against Gwada and were desperately unlucky not to have won. Their rumbustious approach eased the pain for their splendid fans, and there is plenty of hope for the future there.
St Vincent coach Sam Carrington, chary of the quality they will be up against, might be tempted to organise his troops in a defensive strategy. Nonetheless, their fans will be displeased if they see a situation whereby no-one in yellow is beyond the halfway line. Even playing with a sole striker prevents the opposition from effectively camping in your half.
In Vincy’s case, Shandel Samuel looks set to execute this role. Samuel can hold the ball up and await support from midfield personnel. He also has a tried and tested work ethic that would ensure he could volte face to “thicken” the midfield as and when required.
What’s more, Samuel plays for Ma Pau in the Woodbrook district of the Trinidadian capital Port of Spain. He is a player in the zenith of his career, with plenty of big-match experience and intellect.
Trinidad & Tobago are some way ahead in terms of quality, depth of players, finances and population (theirs is over 10 times bigger). However, September’s preparatory friendlies were most unconvincing; Belize, one of CONCACAF’s weakest teams, parked the bus and ground out a commendable 0-0 and an impressive Panama passed the Soca Warriors off the park in a crushing 3-0. There was an absence of fluidity and defensive organisation that day, and local hero Russell Latapy is finding it strenuous seeing to so many new performers.
Guyana, as I stated in my Stage One Review, harbour genuine ambitions of taking the crown and have some scores to settle. Guyanese supporters will grudgingly recall the 2008 Championship, where Devon Jorsling’s late equaliser for T&T condemned the Jaguars to 2nd-stage elimination. They might also brood over 2007, in which they missed out on the final 4 on goal difference after falling to Vincy.
It’s worth pointing out that they stormed their first two rounds in that competition, scoring 24 goals in 6 matches. Confidence is tremendously high in the Guyana camp at present, and justifiably so after a splendid opening round. But they need to be growing through the tournament and building a head of steam, rather than peaking early and being complacent.
Haiti famously defeated T&T at the Hasely Crawford in 2007 to take their maiden Caribbean trophy. The Scorpions showed remarkable spirit against such physically strong opponents and a 27,000-strong crowd. They followed up this triumph with a quarter-final appearance in last year’s Gold Cup, and made the final 12 of World Cup Qualifying. This steadfast side have a point to prove after 30 of their footballing clan lost their lives in January’s heart-rending earthquake, yet Latapy and co will be gunning for revenge in the latest meeting between two gifted generations.
Let’s see what happens…