By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
HAVING stumbled on the turn
into the final straight, Trinidad and Tobago has now found itself having
to play catch-up in a race in which really only the top three get the
prize - a place in the World Cup.
Jamaica, as we all know,
has surged ahead to join the USA at the front of the pack; Costa Rica
and Honduras are in the middle; Trinidad and Tobago only has the very
slight consolation of having pre-race favourite, Mexico, for company
at the rear end. However, Ian Porterfield's team is reaching a point
in the race whereby it is bearing down on Costa Rica, with a chance
of getting back into the thick of things.
Question is: Can the Trinidad
and Tobago national team overtake it's opponent, a rather strong horse?
The Answer: Only by working
harder than it has ever done before.
The fact of the matter is
that Trinidad and Tobago simply did not play to the best of it's ability
in Kingston, last month, and allowed its rivals to out-hustle their
way to three-points. The ultimate price for this is an already tough
fixture in San Jose, being made even tougher. Costa Rica has always
been a tough team at home with Trinidad and Tobago failing to record
a victory there - including five World Cup meetings in the Central American
country. In fact this country has only three victories over Costa Rica
at senior level - all coming in regional championships. The first was
a surprising 3-1 win idid not celebrate its first victory over Costa
Rica until getting a luck-tinged 2-1 win at the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
It was to be another nine years before the second triumph came; in the
quarter-finals of the 2000 Gold Cup. Otherwise, Trinidad and Tobago
has been at the negative end of the score line whenever meeting the
Costa Ricans, especially in their backyard.
The same has gone for other
countries as well. During the last World Cup qualifiers, Costa Rica
went unbeaten in all eight of its home games, played in the two rounds
in which it competed - the semi-final and final group phases. In the
latter stage, Costa Rica won all of its home fixtures, against Guatemala,
the USA and Trinidad and Tobago. In the final round, Costa Rica defeated
the United States, again, along with Jamaica and Canada. There were
also two draws, with Mexico and El Salvador. But, for Costa Rica, playing
away from home was akin to eating a bad doubles and then, maybe, a hot
Solo. Costa Rica won one, but lost two of its three away games in the
semi-final round then, in the final round, lost four out of five away
ties with the other finishing in draw. It was this sad statistic that
put Costa Rica, a very talented team, out of the running for place in
But the Costa Ricans have
made it back and, along with Mexico and USA, are one of the top three
favourites to make it all the way, this time around. They may have stumbled
a bit themselves in having to beat Guatemala in a play-off to get to
this stage and then being held 2-2 by Honduras in their final round
opener on February 28, but with players such as Paulo Wanchope, Jafet
Soto, Harold Wallace and Italia '90 veteran Hernan Medford there is
every possibility that Costa Rica will be the formidable opponent it
has frequently threatened to be.
This is why Trinidad and
Tobago will have to ensure that, once again, it travels with its strongest
side. The resurgence of Dwight Yorke, the goal scorer, at Manchester
United is a welcome sign. Hopefully, Russell Latapy will not be distracted
by the failure of contract negotiations at Hibernian and one should
wish that others, such as Angus Eve, Tony Rougier and Marvin Andrews
stay healthy going into the match.
Next week's game is going
to be a test. A test of whether the national team has what it takes
to be a winning thoroughbred.