WITH 22 teams having confirmed
their places, there were only two more spots in the 1990 World Cup still
available by November 19, 1989. Because of the cancellation of two games
involving Guatemala and El Salvador, due to civil unrest in the latter,
November 19 represented the last day of the World Cup qualifying competition.
A final opportunity for four teams.
While Cameroon and Tunisia
battled in the second leg of their African final round tie in Tunis,
Trinidad and Tobago entertained the U.S.A. in Port of Spain. Two consecutive
wins over Guatemala had put the “Strike Squad” in second place in the
CONCACAF final round group on nine points, just two behind Costa Rica
- which had wrapped qualification back in July. The Americans, by contrast,
were finding goals hard to come by and had been held to 0-0 draws by
both Guatemala and El Salvador in their previous two qualifying matches.
They were in third place in the group on eight points, one behind Trinidad
and Tobago, and two behind Costa Rica. This country only needed a draw
to secure the second qualifying spot from the CONCACAF zone, and make
it to its first World Cup finals.
More than two months of
anticipation preceded the match and, on the day itself, the National
(now Hasely Crawford) Stadium started being filled at a tremendous rate,
soon after the opening of the gates at 7 a.m. By game time (3:30 p.m.)
the 25,000 capacity arena was packed to the seams. The most official
- and logical – estimate puts the final attendance at 35,000. However,
some journalists, in their accounts, chose to go all the way to 46,000.
Fans had been told to wear
something red and everyone dutifully complied: by the time the local
players arrived at the stadium, some two hours before kick-off, they
were greeted by a crimson tide that could be seen from miles away. They
had just made the long journey from their base at Forest Reserve and
had apparently been advised to go out and greet the fans. Only afterwards
did they return to the dressing rooms to get ready for the match.
In the years that have followed
there has been speculation as to whether fatigue, induced by travelling
for hours in a cramped bus and some other pre-game distractions were
major factors in Trinidad and Tobago’s tepid performance. It could have
also been the subconscious knowledge that one required only a draw to
get to Italy. During the early part of the game it became obvious that
the home side was not extending itself and was allowing the normally
defensive Americans to make all the running. It was in the 31st minute
that Paul Caligiuri made all the difference. As a 21 year old still
at UCLA, he scored the winner on his debut as the U.S. beat Trinidad
and Tobago in a World Cup qualifier in Torrance, California on May 19,
1985. Four years later, history would repeat itself as Caligiuri collected
a left sided throw in from Tab Ramos, lobbed the ball over Kerry Jamerson
and fired a dipping 40-yard shot which surprised Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper, Michael Maurice
as it landed into the far corner of the net.
Just a minute before the
goal, Trinidad and Tobago had a penalty-appeal turned down when forward
Philbert Jones went down in the U.S. penalty area under a late tackle
from American defender John Doyle. Argentinean referee, Juan Carlos
Lostau, simply waived play-on as Jones appealed while getting up from
the tackle. Many Trinidadians have argued that Jones should have stayed
down in order to have convinced the referee of the illegality of Doyle’s
challenge. However, during the World Cup finals, in almost exact circumstances
highlighted by TTT host Ashford Jackman, the same Juan Carlos Lostau
awarded a penalty to the Netherlands when West Germany’s Jurgen Kohler
caught Marco Van Basten. Just like Jones, Van Basten, in one motion,
rolled up to his knees, holding his arms aloft to make the successful
It was only in the second
half that Trinidad and Tobago showed some aggression. But the U.S. switched
to its defensive mode to hold out against the locals. Indeed, the only
moment of danger created by Trinidad and Tobago came with just 20 minutes
to go when Leonson Lewis raced down the left flank and pulled the ball
back. Unfortunately, 20-year old U.S.A. goalkeeper Tony Meola was able
to gather the sphere before any opposing player could get to it. The
final seconds of the game were surreal. While some Trinidadian players,
such as Brian Williams, displayed the desperation mandated at this point,
others seemed already resigned to the unwanted result.
The final whistle brought
the usual contrast of American celebration amidst local despair. Trinidad
and Tobago’s tearful players disappeared into the tunnel, but then returned
to the field to salute the fans who had enthusiastically supported them
throughout the 19-month-long qualifying campaign. The crowd returned
the compliment by cheering on the players. It was a gesture which brought
the people of this country a FIFA Fair Play Award: a welcome gesture
by football’s world governing body but, as any true sports fan will
testify, scant consolation for missing out on football’s greatest event.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO:
Michael Maurice – Clayton Morris, Dexter Francis, Brian Williams, Marvin
Faustin, Kerry Jamerson, Russell Latapy, Paul Elliot-Allen (Dexter Francis
75), Dwight Yorke (Hutson Charles 61), Leonson Lewis, Philbert Jones.
U.S.A.: Tony Meola
– John Doyle, Mike Windishmann, Paul Krumpe (John Stollmeyer 61), Steve
Trittshuh, Paul Caligiuri, Brian Bliss, Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes, John
Harkes, Bruce Murray.