9 February, 2001
By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
We are just a few weeks
away from Trinidad and Tobago's opening final round World Cup-qualifying
game – so it is not surprising that concerns over the national team's
preparations have been greatly magnified, they should be. It has been
previously explained in this column that this final group is likely
to be one of the toughest ever in the history of the Football Confederation.
All three representatives at the 1998 World Cup – Mexico, the USA and
Jamaica – are there, along with Central American powerhouses, Costa
Rica and Honduras. Trinidad and Tobago is faced with the task of having
to fight hard in every single game and will need all of its top players,
from start to finish, the widespread anxiety. Many inquiries have been
raised as regards the quality of the opposition that has been lined
up for Trinidad and Tobago in the coming weeks. As it is, many were
not pleased with the fact that the national team kicked off the year
with two friendlies against Grenada, a team that was thrashed 7-0 at
the 1999 Copa Caribe tournament. This while Jamaica was playing Bolivia
and Bulgaria (both of which made World Cup appearances in the 1990s),
the USA was entertaining China and Colombia and Mexico was listing Colombia
and Argentina among opponents played since December. Ian Porterfield's
admission, at last week's new conference, that without our top performers,
"we are not good enough as group of players…to go and play big teams…we
are not at that level," confirmed a point that had been made, repeatedly,
in this column in the past – that Trinidad and Tobago's second best
are way below the level of its best. This was proven in the qualifying
games against the Netherlands Antilles, the Dominican Republic and Panama,
when performances were simply not up to the level displayed in other
games, like those at home to Mexico and Canada. Those were the matches
in which Russell Latapy made a difference and this is why he, Dwight
Yorke, Stern John, Anthony Rougier and Angus Eve will continue to be
relied upon, while the likes of Kerwyn Jemmott, Nigel Pierre, Hector
Sam and Carlos Edwards will have to wait another year for the opportunity
to truly establish themselves.
Some people seem to be upset
with the notion that this country's "local-based" players appear to
be underdeveloped. Some have attached blame to Porterfield and his staff
for not doing much to raise the standard of the national team's fringe
members. However, to be fair to Porterfield, he has only been in charge
for eleven months. During this time, Trinidad and Tobago played 20 international
games; out of which twelve have been World Cup games. This means that
Porterfield had only eight friendly matches to give opportunities to
the younger players, which he has tried to do.
As a matter of fact, this
is the intention of current tour of Brazil and the upcoming journey
to England. But, there are still those that are criticizing both the
quality of the opposition (only a few of the clubs that Trinidad and
Tobago will be engaging are top-flight units) and the fact that the
top players are not involved in this tour - but WILL be playing against
Jamaica in Kingston, come the 28th.
So, it is really a double-edged
sword so far as preparation for this match is concerned. The top players'
European clubs are already reluctant to release them for competitive
games, much less friendly internationals, so Porterfield et al are forced
to use the home-based players in the upcoming matches. But, we already
know that only a few of these players are going to be used in the qualifying
matches. Which means that these friendlies are really just serving the
purpose of the preparing the next generation of players for the post-2002
World Cup period.
It may be strange, but this
is the situation as it now stands. It is merely a reflection of the
lack of development in the domestic sphere and the fact that the younger,
home-based players cannot be expected to make an immediate impact, like
some of their counterparts in the more established football powers.
It is a scenario that no one man, including Porterfield, can change
within a single year.