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T & T's World Cup B Team

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.