Trinidad out; Cuba, Grenada in

Russell Latapy, Trinidad and Tobago’s senior men’s national team coach, probably forgot the old saying, ‘never count your chickens before they’re hatched.’

Latapy boldly suggested that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica would come out finalists in the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup Football (soccer) Championship tournament now playing in Martinique. He also failed to understand what predictions like those do to the opponent – they rile them.

As it turned out, Latapy’s men were beaten in their first two games in Group H, going down 2-0 to Cuba in the tournament opener last Friday night at the Riviere Pilote Stadium, then losing to Grenada, 1-0, on Sunday at the same venue.

With no points and only Martinique to play, the Soca Warriors, eight-time winners of the Caribbean championship, face a humiliating end to the Digicel Caribbean Championships for the second straight tournament. Grenada defeated a Latapy-led team at the 2008 tournament on its way to a second-place finish to host Jamaica.

Cuba (6 pts.) got its second win is as many games, against Martinique, with a 1-0 defeat of the host on Sunday and is through to the semifinals and with a berth in the COCACAF Gold Cup finals next year in the U.S. Grenada (4 pts.) tied Martinique in the teams’ opener Friday night before its defeat of the Soca Warriors and unless Martinique can defeat Trinidad and Tobago by at least two clear goals, Grenada would accompany Cuba as the second team from the four-team Group H to move into the semifinal stage and get its second consecutive berth to the Gold Cup.

Trinidad was coming off a three-game sweep to top qualifying Group F in the build up to the tournament, and according to all reports, it started aggressively. Soca Warriors midfielder Keon Daniel fired the first warning shot early in the game that sent a message to Cuba when his volley shot rocked the crossbar on the Cuban goal. The teams continued to battle for control of the game until midway in the half, Cuban captain Jaine Valencia put his team ahead for a 1-0 halftime lead.

In an effort to shore up the offense, Trinidad and Tobago brought on substitutes Daniel Cyrus and Jamal Gay at the start of the second half, but neither player made an impact as Cuba dominated and even had a goal called back that would have made the score 2-0 early in the half.

The Cubans eventually got the second goal when substitutes Roberto Balmaseda and Adonis Soler combined to beat the Trinidad and Tobago defense. The pair entered the game in the 78th minute and two minutes after, Balmaseda got behind the Trinidad and Tobago defense and crossed to Soler, who went in one-on-one with Soca Warriors goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams; his shot was cleared off the line, only to see Balmaseda finish the effort. The game pretty much was over for the Soca Warriors as Cuba held on for the remaining 10 minutes of play. Trinidad ended the game with 10 men when midfielder Lester Peltier was red carded for an off-the-ball incident.

In Trinidad and Tobago’s second game, this time against Grenada, Latapy, in a desperate move, changed almost the entire team, including the goalkeeper Jan Williams, who could not be faulted for the goals Cuba scored. Marvin Phillip manned the Soca Warriors nets, but he was helpless to stop Kitson Bain’s rocket that made the difference.

In the 69th minute, striker Bain dribbled down the left wing and cut inside on his right foot and uncorked a right-footed, rocket-like shot from 25 yards that sailed into the top of the Trinidad and Tobago goal; the shot was describe by journalist as the “shot of the tournament.”

A stunned Trinidad and Tobago team tried to shake off the effects of the shot that would eventually send it home in disgrace but couldn’t; with 21 minutes left to play, the Soca Warriors faced the humiliating end. Julius James’ goal off a header in the 73rd minute was disallowed because he fouled in the process, which was the only brief moment of hope for the Soca Warriors. Trinidad and Tobago just didn’t have what was needed to pull even.

Bain had scored Grenada’s only goal in the 1-1 draw with Martinique on the opening day; he leads the tournament with two goals. Martinique was under pressure after Bain’s first half strike as 6,000 home fans waited anxiously for the equalizer, which came 10 minutes from the final whistle. Jose Goron, who entered the game in the 77th minute, was fouled in the penalty area and converted the spot kick to give Martinique the draw.

Meanwhile, in Group I defending champion Jamaica made easy work of Antigua and Barbuda in their opening game on Saturday at the Riviere Pilote Stadium. Luther Shelton scored for Jamaica in the 14th and 37th minutes to give the defending champion the early 2-0 lead; Dane Richards of the New York Red Bulls, who assisted on Shelton’s first goal, scored Jamaica’s third in the 40th minute for the three-goal lead at halftime.

Jamaica dominated the game with its speed and quick ball moments that left the Antiguans struggling to keep pace. It took a 30-yard free kick from Gason Gregory in the 48th minute to pierce the Jamaican goal and give Antigua and Barbuda a glimmer of hope, but Jamaica held on for the win.

In the second Group I game, Guyana struggled to draw against a dominant Guadeloupe team. The French squad dominated the game from the start but couldn’t score until early in the second half through Loic Loval, who tapped in a cross. Dwain Jacobs equalized for Guyana when he ran onto a through pass that beat the Guadeloupe defense; he slotted the ball past the on-rushing goalkeeper for the score.

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