15 Dec 2000
By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
SO, how good are Trinidad
and Tobago’s chances of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup?
Well, on paper, they are
just about as good as the other teams in the final qualifying round
The reality, however, is
that this country’s national team is going to have to do a lot of constant,
hard work over a nine-month period.
In this column, last month,
it was pointed out that the result of this weekend’s playoff between
Costa Rica and Guatemala could have a major impact on the eventual shape
of the final round standings on November 11, 2001. Costa Rica are a
potential top three favourite and could be a very difficult opponent
for visiting teams. Guatemala, on the other hand, is not quite as talented
and is a team that Trinidad and Tobago is capable of beating twice.
However, regardless of which
side eventually makes it, there is one factor that is going to remain
unchanged: Trinidad and Tobago’s draw is a tough one.
Coming to terms with this
fact will be in everyone’s best interest. First of all, we should all
realize that the Trinidad and Tobago national team will be starting
off the final stretch with TWO AWAY GAMES. This is something that a
great deal of coaches and technical staff members secretly pray against.
Because playing your first two games away from home is like being in
a running race with some of your competitors being granted a head start
– you are always going to have to work hard from start to finish to
have any chance of placing in the top three.
Still, there are two ways
of looking at these pair of games: things are fine if its Jamaica and
Guatemala, meaning that Trinidad and Tobago will be facing two teams
that it can beat twice; tough if it is Jamaica and Costa Rica, meaning
that we have a team that Trinidad and Tobago can beat twice and a heavyweight
that will make Ian Porterfield’s men fight for 90 minutes. All of this,
of course, is not to suggest that Jamaica and Guatemala are going to
be comfortable stops. The National Stadium in Kingston was not exactly
a happy hunting ground for this country in the 1990s with Trinidad and
Tobago losing three out of its four internationals there and drawing
the other. As for Guatemala, it is possible that the game could be played
in the Pacific-coast town of Mazatenango – a steamy venue with a passionate
home crowd, where the USA and Costa Rica experienced problems during
the semi-final round.
Then, we should also be
conscious of Trinidad and Tobago’s next assignment: a home game against,
of all teams, Mexico – participant in eleven World Cups. Again, though,
there is a major positive for Trinidad and Tobago: the home victory
last July 23. Nevertheless, Mexico’s powerhouse status suggests that
Porterfield should not bet on it playing as poorly as it did nearly
five months ago and, instead, prepare for another major exam on April
Later, there is another
major flashpoint, with two games in four days, during the month of June:
a home tie with Honduras followed by the journey to the United
States. The Americans have always been a tough rival for Trinidad and
Tobago and have beaten this country three straight times. Reports indicate
that the game may be played in a city without a large population of
Trinidadian immigrants. Then again, if Trinis were able to make it to
Richmond, Virginia – like they did for a World Cup game, four years
ago – then who is to bet against expatriates finding themselves in Birmingham,
Alabama or Portland, Oregon?
After these two games in
four days, Trinidad and Tobago will have little over a week to get a
breather before the second part of the round gets underway with the
home game against Jamaica. Once again, it will be preferable if it turns
out to be consecutive home games against Jamaica and Guatemala, rather
than Jamaica followed by Costa Rica. This is (perhaps) the easiest part
of the road to Japan and South Korea. Afterwards, the national team
will encounter another peak with the back-to-back away games against
Mexico and Honduras. We all remember what happened in Mexico City, last
October 8. As for Honduras, this country also lost its last game there.
The results of these games will be crucial in determining whether or
not it will all come down to that final home game against the USA on
November 11. Hopefully, it will not.
So, now that we all have
been enlightened to the task at hand, we can now proceed to enjoy the
Christmas-Carnival season – while being prepared for the events to follow.