The TT Football Association Youth Invitational tournament kicked-off yesterday, at the Home of Football, Ato Boldon Stadium in Balmain, Couva.
In this tournament, the Under-15 Boys’ teams of Panama, Mexico, Venezuela and hosts TT, along with the Under-16 Girls’ teams of Curaçao and TT, look to showcase the future of football in the Americas.
TT's U15 boys faced their first test of the tourney against Panama.
The goal scoring started in the 16th minute when Panama defender Felix Ariza scored off a TT corner. Unfortunately, that goal was in the back of his own net, giving TT the lead early.
That didn’t discourage Panama,however, as they kept pushing forward and applying pressure to TT’s back 4. Eventually, Reymundo Arauz managed to negotiate his way through two defenders to beat TT goalkeeper Kanye Lazarus for Panama to draw level.
In the 39th minute, Panama gained momentum and capitalised with a penalty by Abraham Mejia after he was brought down in the box by TT's #8, Molik Khan. The hosts were not down for long and two minutes later, Khan repaid his debt by connecting off an Abdul-Quddoos Hypolite (#7) corner to send TT into the half on equal terms.
The second half began with both teams on the attack and looking to take control of the game. In the 68th minute, TT captain Jaheim Marshall (#6) collected the ball from on top of the box and delivered a sensational goal to put TT in front once more.
But the lead would be short-lived and in the 69th, Panama got the equaliser thanks to Rafael Diaz. There was an uproar from the crowd as they believed the linesman on the near side missed an offside call – the goal stood.
Four minutes later, Arauz scored on a counter-attack to put Panama in the lead on 4-3. Again, another counter-break allowed Emanuel Iglesias to give the Panamanians a 5-3 lead in the 74th.
TT didn’t let up though and after a couple of close chances, they finally pulled within one thanks to a solo effort by #10 Nathaniel James. Towards the end of a four-minute stoppage time, James almost brought TT back level, but Panama came up with a clutch defensive effort to send the ball out for a corner. TT couldn’t convert the corner and the referee called the match over, with the hosts coming up short in a thriller, 5-4.
Earlier in the day, Mexico’s U-15 team took on Venezuela. After a scoreless first half, the game would have to wait till the 72nd minute for Jésus Moreno to score on the counter-attack for Mexico giving them a 1-0 lead.
Venezuela failed to capitalise on their chances and Mexico put any doubt away thanks to Gael Bernal scoring in the 83rd minute. Mexico would go on to win by a score of 2-0.
Tomorrow, the Youth Invitational Tournament moves north-west to the Haseley Crawford Stadium where TT’s Under-16 Girls’ team would open the day’s festivities against Panama at 4pm. Game 2 will see the winners from yesterday, Panama and Mexico square off at 6.15 pm. To cap off Day 2, TT’s Under-15s will take on Venezuela at 8.15 pm, with both teams looking for their first win of the tournament.