T&T narrowly beaten by Morocco

Date Published: 
Trinidad Express

Trinidad and Tobago's footballers were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Morocco in a friendly international in Casablanca yesterday.

A 34th minute goal by Coventry City striker Moustafa Hadji gave coach Bertille St Clair's team their second defeat in eleven matches dating back to last year.

Hadji, Africa's 1999 Player of the Year, and one of Morocco's outstanding players at the 1998 World Cup in France, scored the winner with a free kick past Crewe goalkeeper Clayton Ince.

T&T were reported to have played a defensive game while Morocco, preparing for the start of the African Nations Cup on Saturday were below their World Cup form.

"We know that it will be very hard to qualify for the quarter-finals (African Nations Cup)," coach Henri Michel said after the match. "We have some problems in attack with a lack of strikers as happened today," he added.

The Soca Warriors, whose last meeting with an African team was a 2-0 victory over South Africa last May, arrive home today and continue preparations for next month's Football Confederation Gold Cup. They are expected to play Costa Rica and Peru and possibly Tunisia in coming weeks.

Speaking about the performance yesterday from Morocco, General Manager Richard Braithwaite explained that the team could hold their heads high despite the loss.

"This was a very strong Moroccan team playing in their own backyard," he said. "We matched them stride for stride and finished the game strongly, pressing for an equaliser."

"This is the best I have seen a Trinidad and Tobago side play in years," Braithwaite added, "and I think this is an even better effort than the one we gave against the South African last year which, was up until now, our best overall showing under Bertille."

St Clair was particularly pleased with the work of debutant defender Ian Cox, who performed the sweeper duties in the 5-3-2 formation.

The Bournemouth player used his experience to help the T&T defence contain the skilful Moroccan attack, led by their England-based midfielder Moustapha Hadji. The upshot was that most of their shots came from outside the penalty area.

In fact, Cox's only mistake came in the 34th minute when he inadvertently diverted a close-range header from Hadji past his own goalkeeper Clayton Ince from a left-side cornerkick.

The goal came after T&T had been reduced to 10 men after England-based Ronnie Maugé, used in the defence by St Clair, was rushed to the hospital after being stamped on the left shoulder by an opponent. X-rays did not reveal any fractures.

Former skipper David Nakhid, who returned to international action to form a powerful combination with Scotland-based Russell Latapy-who joined the team at 2 a.m.yesterday and played for 55 minutes-also had to be stretchered off in the second half after he was stamped on the ankle by an opponent.

This was one of the major areas of concern to the technical staff. Another was the inability of the strikers to finish the chances created by the midfield, which featured Ansil Elcock (left) and Rougier (right) in attack.

"Everybody felt afterwards that the result of this game would have been different had we had a Stern (John) or Dwight (Yorke), or both, in the side. We missed a couple of glaring chances and this was disappointing."

One memorable miss came in the dying stages of the game when striker Nigel Pierre kicked over the bar from inside the six-metre box with only the Moroccan keeper to beat after Hector Sam, named CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh's "Player of the Year" on the weekend, dribbled past a defender and squared to him.

Overall, though, St Clair was "very satisfied" with the effort as, with the Football Confederation's Gold Cup deadline approaching, he appears to have found some answers to several of his questions about player resources.

T&T: Clayton Ince, Ian Cox, Anthony Rougier, Shurland David, Ansil Elcock, Ronnie Maugé (Brent Rahim), Angus Eve, Russell Latapy (Arnold Dwarika), David Nakhid (Derek King), Mickey Trotman (Hector Sam), Jerren Nixon (Nigel Pierre)

Hibernian midfielder Russell Latapy and former national skipper David Nakhid, who were part of the T&T side in yesterday's loss, are expected to continue being part of the squad for the Gold Cup and vital World cup qualifiers. T&T officials are also hoping to have Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke in the squad soon.