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What are the chances of TnT's Football team ?

 
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 draw.

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 24.

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.