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Wed, Dec

Russia within reach but T&T will have a mountain to ascend.
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Three high altitude matches awaits.

Call it wishful thinking, impossible, unwinnable, hopeless, unworkable, far-fetched, impractical or even laughable, in my humble opinion, Trinidad and Tobago could very well still secure a place at next year's World Cup in Europe.

The Warriors are very much alive and their aspirations can become a reality if they play the way we know they can. This was proven under former coach Stephen Hart and now new head coach Dennis Lawrence is perceptibly doing the same.

Europe seems to always be a destination that T&T has managed to come tantalisingly close to qualifying for a World Cup. They were able to qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and narrowly missed out on the 1974 and 1990 World Cups in West Germany and Italy respectively.

Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has two home games left and managed to tally up three points to their name after four games. Forcing them to go above and beyond if they are to attain their goal of qualifying for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. We all know that it would be an extremely gruelling tasked to achieve, but I do believe we are realistically still very much in contention.

Hopes still alive.

Losing to possibly the two best teams in CONCACAF at home is nothing to be dispirited about. Mexico as we all know is a world class contender at every single level of competition. While Costa Rica, has always been T&T's menace, especially in San Jose where they are yet to be beaten by the twin—island republic.

On the contrary there is a flip side of a coin to all of this. T&T showed both Costa Rica and Mexico that they could match them in every aspect of the game, regardless if T&T were the home team, the Latin Americans always find a way to grind out a positive result even if they got a little help in doing so.

Mexico was lucky to have left Trinidad shores with three points and a major part of that had to do with a poor synergism decision from Jamaican officials, Valdin Legister (referee) and Richard Washington (linesman) robbed T&T a perfect goal by Joevin Jones. If the goal had stood who knows what the outcome would have been? The last two times T&T met Mexico it was a highly entertaining 4-4 and 3-3 thriller.

Costa Rica on the other hand took advantage of T&T because we allowed them to, but neither team looked superior.

Furthermore, the March 28 results from the Costa Rica vs Honduras (1-1) and United States vs Panama (1-1) matches were also a huge plus for T&T, leaving the gap close and the destination within reach.

On June 8th, the United States will host T&T in Denver and four days later the Warriors will come up against Costa Rica in San Jose, a place with an average elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level.

Both games, the odds are definitely stacked exceedingly high against the Caribbean Panmen, however, if T&T could continue the trend we saw against Mexico they could possibly steal a point on the road which would be an added bonus for them.

T&T will have to prepare well for the U.S, as the match against them is in the Mile-High City of Colorado at the Dick's Sporting Goods Park, located in Commerce City, the northern suburb of Denver. A, place where you would need lungs like Chelsea's N'Golo Kanté to perform creditably well. Denver is one mile (5280 feet) above sea level.

Despite having a top coach now (Bruce Arena) and a blown-out match against Honduras where they drummed the Central Americans 6-0 in California. USA still didn't look like the team we saw a few years ago. The 1-1 draw with Panama last March proved this, hence the reason why they're probably hosting T&T at mile-high to take any advantage they could get. If, T&T miraculously pulls off a tie against them then T&T would have 4-points in the bag.

The last time T&T snatched a point in U.S soil was on the 13th of May 1989, some 28—years ago when former T&T assistant coach Hutson Charles’ snatched a late equaliser in a 1-1 tie.

Some improvements

Recently, we did see a major improvement in T&T's defence and they will have to approach these away matches the Jose Mourinho way and possibly park the bus across our goal—line. Whether it is in San Jose or in the Denver a tie is possible. Nonetheless, if T&T lose both matches they still have a chance to finish with 13-points, the road will however become a little more rocky.

September will be the turning point for T&T and two wins could propel them up the ladder if they play to their true potential but I must admit, this is one of the trickiest clinical knots to untie.

Playing host to Honduras and then away to Panama, a team that has never beaten T&T at World Cup qualifying (WCQ) level, in actuality, T&T should by all means put these games to bed. If T&T takes care of the Central Americans they could rack up 6-points and a total of 9 or 10, which will of course depend on our matches against USA and Costa Rica.

In October, T&T will now have to do what they have never done before. The unthinkable task of getting two positive results against the top two teams in CONCACAF, USA and Mexico.

They have a date with Mexico at the Azteca Stadium before flying home to host the United States. A team that caused T&T and their fans a lot of heartache since the infamous November 1989 1-0 defeat in Trinidad. They are known as Uncle Sam's Army and whether they are playing at home or in Trinidad, their infantry always come out in numbers to support their troops and T&T supporters normally treat its visitors with a welcome hospitality.

Warriors waited 19 years for a win after Nov. 19th

Like the November 19th, 1989 match, it seems the Warriors always end up facing the U.S in their last match. Playing T&T at home is never intimidating enough to scare off teams because the Stadium is most of the times not browbeat and opponents quickly settle in, the 12th man is hardly there.

During the 4th round group stage T&T closed off its 2015 and 2016 Group C qualifiers against the U.S with a 0-0 tie in Port of Spain and then got peppered 4-0 in Jacksonville.

More than likely, by the time T&T faces the North Americans (Mexico) they will have already qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and to top it off they are USA's biggest CONCACAF rivals. So hopefully they do us a favour and field an inexperienced team that we could take advantage of. A, 0-0 draw could be possible and this would take us to 10 or 11-points. Like I mentioned above (depending on our matches against USA and Costa Rica).

What's interesting is that it could very well boil down to T&T having to win their home game against the United States come October. They will have to turn on all of their firing cylinders and out rightly beat the U.S which will guarantee them a place in Russia with a total of 14 points. That's if, things go accordingly and Valdin Legister and Richard Washington doesn't referee the match, they are know for making bad calls against Caribbean teams. Even 13 points could count for something?

Since 1985, the Warriors have played the United States 16 times at WCQ level and only won once to them. The solo victory came in 2008 under then coach Colombian-born Francisco Maturana where T&T ran away 2-1 winners that ended the Stars & Stripes’ six-game winning streak in their bid to reach the 2010 finals in South Africa.

Former superstars Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke started for the Soca Warriors against the United States in Port-of-Spain on November 19, 1989 - nineteen years later, the dynamic duo exacted some revenge against the United States. However, without taking anything away from T&T, the USA already had clinched its place in the six-team CONCACAF “hexagonal and rested a few first team members.

The only bright side to the win against the U.S that could be of some benefit to T&T is that both Dennis Lawrence and his assistant Stern John were part of the team. Current players Carlos Edwards and Khaleem Hyland were also there.

Nine seems to be the lucky number, come June, 9-years since T&T's last victory over them, the U.S will be hosting T&T in a high altitude State (Denver). T&T should consider using their home advantage as well and schedule their home matches while the sun is still hot. Playing teams at 7pm in the afternoon is actually beneficial to teams like the United States. I know playing at 7pm may guarantee more crowd support, but we must consider what's more important, money now or, more money for qualifying for the prestigious World event.

Preparing for USA & Costa Rica against Grenada!?!

T&T will continue their World Cup qualifying preparations later this month with an international friendly away to Grenada on April 29.

Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence told the TTFA Media that he will use the Grenada outing to assess players on the fringe of his first team and to maintain the fitness levels of his home-based players. The game is outside the FIFA match window and clubs are not obliged to release players to take part.

With a little less than 2 months to go before the drama kicks—off, I will assume that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) will award T&T's coaching staff some much needed games in preferred environment to better prepare-them for what's to come. Playing Grenada may not give us the answers we need. Teams are preparing for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, an event T&T did not qualified for, so hopefully the TTFA could muster up something more worthwhile.

Taking into consideration that the FIFA International match calendar has no allotments for April and May, it will be difficult to properly construct a full team unless we play a few matches where most of our foreign based players ply their trades, in the United States. Places like Utah and Denver are two good cities to assemble, it will surely give them a feel of what it would be like playing at high altitude, even if it's just for a training camp as we have to grasped the concept that time together is of utmost importance.

At present, defending Pro League champions Central FC and San Juan Jabloteh are preparing for next month’s Caribbean Club Championships (CCC).

Twelve players in the Trinidad and Tobago squad for the last two World Cup qualifiers were attached to Pro League clubs earlier this year.

They are goalkeepers Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United) and Glenroy Samuel (Ma Pau Stars); defenders Carlos Edwards (Ma Pau Stars), Gonzales (Defence Force), Tristan Hodge (W Connection) and Cyrus (W Connection); midfielders Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Hashim Arcia (Defence Force), Leston Paul (Central FC) and Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh) and forward Boatswain (Defence Force).

Food for thoughts.

On the 8th of October 2008, Joe Public FC (Eastern Lions) were 1-0 winners over Cancun's based Club Atlante FC in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). The local outfit became the first ever Club from T&T and to an extent, the Caribbean region to have ever won a game on Mexican soil. Cancun however, is only 33' feet above sea level.

That same year the Eastern Lions also got pulsating CCL wins (one on U.S territory) against the New England Revolution which saw them advancing 6:1 on aggregate. NE Revs home games are played at the Gillette Stadium which has a 289' feet elevation.

Speaking of Joe Public, their former winger Hayden Tinto were also the first T&T player to have ever scored a goal at the Estadio Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. It was June the 11th 2009 in-font of 80,000 strong and inspired by the ageless Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Andres Guardado, Nery Castillo, Guillermo Franco and Giovani Dos Santos. Mexico had to dig deep after taking the lead within 59 seconds of the start to rally back 2-1 winners.

The Soca Warriors rode the pressure and gradually got back into the match. They tied it up in injury time at the end of the first half when Hayden Tinto intercepted a bad pass and beat two defenders and goalkeeper Oscar Perez with a well-judged and well-taken shot. The lead lasted less than three minutes into the second half, Oscar Rojas unleashed a fearsome shot from 30 yards that found the upper right corner of the net. Clayton Ince was left helpless.

In September 2015, months after T&T's shocking 4-4 tie with the Mexicans at the 2015 summer Gold Cup, T&T got another eye-opening 3-3 result against them in Salt Lake City, which has a 4,226 elevation.

On the 8th of November 2014, the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team managed a goalless draw in Quito, Ecuador, which is 9,350 feet above sea level—and comfortably 2,000 feet higher than the Azteca.

So here are the four scenarios on how it could go down.

Home Team / Opponent / T&T Results / T&T Points

SCENARIO 1

USA v T&T - Draw = 4
Costa Rica v T&T - Lose = 4
T&T v Honduras - Win = 7
Panama v T&T - Win = 10
Mexico v T&T - Draw = 11
T&T v USA - Win = 14

TOTAL = 14

SCENARIO 2

USA v T&T - Lose = 3
Costa Rica v T&T - Lose = 3
T&T v Honduras - Win = 6
Panama v T&T - Win = 9
Mexico v T&T - Draw = 10
T&T v USA - Win = 13

TOTAL = 13

SCENARIO 3

USA v T&T - Lose = 3
Costa Rica v T&T - Draw = 4
T&T v Honduras - Win = 7
Panama v T&T - Win = 10
Mexico v T&T - Lose = 10
T&T v USA - Win = 13

TOTAL = 13

SCENARIO 4

USA v T&T - Lose = 3
Costa Rica v T&T - Lose = 3
T&T v Honduras - Win = 6
Panama v T&T - Win = 9
Mexico v T&T - Lose = 9
T&T v USA - Win = 12

TOTAL = 12

Standings

# - P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts - (-/+)
1. Mexico  4  3  1  0  5  1  10  (+4)
2. Costa Rica  4  2  1  1  7  3  7  (+4)
3. Panama  4  1  2  1  2  2  5  (0)
4. United States  4  1  1  2  8  7  4  (1)
5. Honduras  4  1  1  2  4  9  4  (-5)
6. Trinidad & Tobago  4  1  0  3  2  6  3  (-4)

CONCACAF Top-10 FIFA Ranked.

1. Mexico  (16th)
2. Costa Rica  (20th)
3. USA  (23rd)
4. Panama  (57th)
5. Haiti  (65th)
6. Honduras (68th)
7. Curacao  (70th)
8. Jamaica  (73rd)
9. Trinidad & Tobago  (76th)
10. Guatemala  (92nd)

Upcoming Games

8 June 2017 (home team listed first)

United States v Trinidad & Tobago, Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Costa Rica v Panama, Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica
Mexico v Honduras, Estadio Azteca

11 June 2017 (home team listed first)

Mexico v United States, Estadio Azteca

13 June 2017 (home team listed first)

Panama v Honduras, Estadio Rommel Fernández
Costa Rica v Trinidad and Tobago, Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica

1 September 2017 (home team listed first)

United States v Costa Rica, TBA
Mexico v Panama, TBA
Trinidad and Tobago v Honduras, Hasley Crawford Stadium

5 September 2017 (home team listed first)

Honduras v United States, Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano
Panama v Trinidad and Tobago, Estadio Rommel Fernández
Costa Rica v Mexico, Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica

6 October 2017 (home team listed first)

United States v Panama, TBA
Costa Rica v Honduras, Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica
Mexico v Trinidad and Tobago, TBA

10 October 2017 (home team listed first)

Trinidad and Tobago v United States, Hasley Crawford Stadium
Panama v Costa Rica, Estadio Rommel Fernández
Honduras v Mexico, Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano

Current Top Goal—scorers

Clint Dempsey (USA)—4
Christian Bolaños (Costa Rica)—2
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)—2
Rónald Matarrita (Costa Rica), Johan Venegas (Costa Rica), Kendall Waston (Honduras), Eddie Hernández
(Honduras), Emilio Izaguirre (Honduras), Anthony Lozano (Honduras) Romell Quioto, Néstor Araujo (Mexico), Javier Hernández (Mexico), Miguel Layún (Mexico), Rafael Márquez (Mexico), Diego Reyes (Mexico), Fidel Escobar (Panama), Gabriel Gómez (Panama), Carlyle Mitchell (Trinidad and Tobago), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago), Michael Bradley (United States), Sebastian Lletget (United States), Christian Pulisic (United States), Bobby Wood (United States)—1 apiece.

Head-to-head WCQ last 5 results (home team listed first)

Vs United States
(1-W, 1D, 3L)

2008, USA 4 v T&T 0
2009, T&T 0 v USA 0
2009, T&T 0 v USA 1
2015, USA 3 v T&T 0
2016, T&T 2 v USA 1

Vs Costa Rica
(0W, 1D, 4L)

2005, T&T 0 v Costa Rica 0
2005, Costa Rica 2 v T&T 0
2009, T&T 2 v Costa Rica 3
2009, Costa Rica 4 v T&T 0
2016, T&T 0 v Costa Rica 2

Vs Mexico
(1W, 1D, 3L)

2005, Mexico 2 v T&T 0
2005, T&T 2 v Mexico 1
2009, Mexico 2 v T&T 1
2009, T&T 2 v Mexico 2
2017, T&T 0 v Mexico 1

Vs Honduras
(1W, 1D, 3L)

2001, T&T 2 v Honduras 4
2001, Honduras 0 v T&T 1
2009, T&T 1 v Honduras 1
2009, Honduras 4 v T&T 1
2016, Honduras 3 v T&T 1

Vs Panama
((6W, 0D, 0L)

2000, T&T 6 v Panama 0
2000, T&T 1 v Panama 0
2005, T&T 2 v Panama 0
2005, Panama 0 v T&T 1
2017, T&T 1 v Panama 0