TT PRO League outfit Central FC have booked a fourth consecutive Caribbean Club Championship finals spot after topping Group B of the 2018 edition with a hard-fought 1-0 win over hot-tempered hosts Atlántico FC at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago, Dominican Republic, on Sunday night.
Atlántico fell behind on the hour mark through a Yoan Melo own-goal and were later denied from the penalty spot. They also had a goal disallowed for a handball, then saw defender Yesion Murillo given a red card deep in stoppage time as they exited the tournament.
Central, champions of 2015 and 2016 and fourth-placed finishers in 2017, won Group B with six points, two ahead of Jamaica’s Portmore United and Atlántico, who finished second and third respectively and only separated by goal-difference, while Haiti’s Racing FC finished bottom of the group.
Central advance to face Group A runners-up Arnett Gardens (Jamaica) in the semi-finals—tentatively set for May—while Portmore, who were edged 1-0 by Racing in their final group game on Sunday, must take on Group A winners Club Atletico Pantoja of Dominican Republic.
This season, the Caribbean champions will gain a place in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
“Now, it’s a new team, so we’ve got to have that drive and that fight again,” veteran attacker Jason Marcano told concacaf.com. Marcano was a vital part of the Central FC teams that won the Caribbean crown in 2015 and 2016.
Headed by coach Stern John and his new support staff that includes assistant coach Walt Noriega, Central were equipped with a brilliant bunch of experience and youth and though starting the campaign on the wrong end of a 2-0 score against Portmore United (Wednesday), the Sharks rebounded brilliantly with a 3-0 hammering of Haiti’s Racing FC (Friday) before edging Atlántico in the group finale.
Central, needing nothing less than a victory against Atlántico, broke the hosts on the hour mark when left-back Melo inadvertently turned an angled Darren Mitchell effort into the back of his own net after the Dominicans failed to avert danger when Densill Theobald floated a cross into the middle of the box.
Mitchell, however, would give away a penalty on the other end in the 70th minute after bundling Joel Perucci to ground in the box. But Central’s 21-year-old former England-based shot-stopper Montel Joseph brilliantly matched Perucci’s left-footed blast from the spot with a diving save to his right.
Herlyn Cuica then had the ball in the back of the Sharks net from the resulting corner, but Jamaican referee Oshane Nation was well positioned to spot the ball off the midfielder’s arm and disallowed the goal. Joseph had also made a crucial save before the break to keep out a powerful left-footed attempt from Cristofer Reynoso.
However, it was Central who enjoyed the major share of dangerous attacks and forward Jason Marcano could have had his name on the scoresheet twice within the first dozen of minutes, including forcing Atlántico goalkeeper Cristian Blanco into a miraculous save that saw the ball spin over the top.
Blanco had to be sharp on 57 minutes when Rhondell Gibson tried to beat the Atlántico goalie from 25 yards out, but the Central midfielder’s effort took a slight deflection to fly wide of the post.
And after conceding three minutes later, Atlántico tempers began to flare and it didn’t come a surprise when referee Nation had to issue defender Murillo a direct red card for pulling Darren Mitchell to ground.