Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Footballers are left with no other option but to go into Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez with a positive outlook that can force nothing but a victory.
Following the teams’s last training session at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Sunday morning before its departure for Panama City at 5:30pm on Sunday, head coach Dennis Lawrence had before him a 23-man squad that was slowly dusting themselves off and regrouping before their next assignment. The campaign has come down to this, where a World Cup appearance ambition for some of the players at least, could be over in 90 minutes.
But it’s not the first time a Trinidad and Tobago team has had to lift itself out of the deep end. Just take it back to September 3rd, 2005. T&T 1-0 down to Guatemala after three minutes and needing nothing but a win to keep the slightest of chances alive for Germany qualification. Of course the selection was different then. Russell Latapy on the return and Stern John was the double winning goalscorer with goals in the 85th and 86th minute as the Hasely Crawford Stadium erupted in the closing minutes. Current head coach Dennis Lawrence was part of the players set up and John is now an assistant coach with the squad.
“It’s not impossible,” John told TTFA Media. “I’ve been there before, we’ve been there before as players and as a nation so we know what it is to comeback from the dead. I remember looking at the clock around the 80th minute and thinking something has to happen but it’s not looking good at all for us. But we had that belief and we didn’t throw the towel in at any point. I think it’s a similar scenario now just that we know what the situation is before the first whistle goes,” John said.
“We’ve got to go there thinking the result is within reach but we have to pull it all together and fight it out right down until the last whistle. The squad has players that can help us get the result we need in Panama. But mental strength and a desire to do it is what we’ll have to show on Tuesday.”
Experienced current national team defender Radanfah Abu Bakr opened the scoring for T&T in a 2-1 win over Panama at the same venue in a friendly in 2015. And looking at the scenario from a team standpoint, he knows it’s make or break for the team on Tuesday.
“We are getting off the disappointing result. We didn’t perform the way we should have, particularly in the first half. But we want to take the good things from that night and improve on the bad things from that game. All focus is on the next game. We know we have beat them before in the Hex and as a matter of fact, we got a win the last time we played them in Panama and therefore we are confident of being able to turn it around,” Abu Bakr told TTFA Media.
“This could be the last World Cup campaign for a lot of us. Some of us are approaching thirty or over thirty already so we know this may be our last shot. It’s of course mathematically possible, We have to get three points against Panama and taking that momentum into the last two games. We have to recognise that this is our last chance.
“We have to show the character that we have in us and I think there is still that belief that we can do it. We have catching up to do. It doesn’t take much to change the mood within a camp. Maybe we need a spot of brilliance from someone, we need to just be solid and be together and back each other. We really have to believe in our abilities.
The Lithuania-based defender is aware that the team has not left the best of impressions on the fans after Friday’s result.
“It’s understandable that the fans are not happy. This is football and there will be ups and downs and when you are really down is when you need then backing of your real fans and the people who are behind you to really rally you and get you back to the top, Abu Bakr concluded.
The T&T team is expected in Panama City around 9pm and will train at the Match Stadium on Monday evening ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.
T&T have won two and lost three out of the previous five meetings between both nations dating back to 2010. Overall, T&T have won 12, lost five and drawn five since the first meeting in 1978.
Kick off on Tuesday is 9:05pm (10:05pm TT time).
Make that change.
By Fazeer Mohammed (Express).
Barring a Headingley-style turnaround, this Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign is effectively over.
Yet in the same way that Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite engineered an astonishing Test match victory last week, made all the more remarkable by the manner of the abject capitulation at Edgbaston a week earlier, Dennis Lawrence has to keep on believing that he can find a way to get his players to produce the sort of performance tomorrow in Panama City to keep us all harbouring notions – however unlikely - of a miraculous late rally.
Coach Stuart Law talked about the soul-searching among Jason Holder's squad following that innings and 209-run humiliation inside three days in Birmingham and the strong belief within the team that it would be a different story the next time around in Leeds. And it was, although by no stretch of the imagination could it be described as a perfect effort, not when as many as seven catches were put down and when the Caribbean side noticeably lacked the effort and energy on the fourth afternoon when it appeared all of the fight had drained out of them.
It hadn't, as Hope and Brathwaite testified in spectacular fashion in ideal swing bowling conditions on that final day last Tuesday. Now, after all the exultation at arguably the most startling turnaround result in the contemporary history of international cricket has died down a bit, the challenge for the West Indies is to carry that effort forward to the series decider (Imagine that!) at Lord's.
Nothing can be ruled out of course, not even another batting collapse given what transpired in the two-day warm-up match at Leicestershire over the weekend. But they were able to rally then as well after the top order, including the batting heroes of Headingley, were knocked over as Shimron Hetmyer staked his claim to replace Kyle Hope at number three while Shane Dowrich also notched three figures that should at least give him greater confidence in front of the stumps at the headquarters of the game, even as his work behind the timbers has also been found wanting.
What is there, though, to offer Lawrence hope that his Trinidad and Tobago senior men's squad can cast aside their woeful defensive effort, especially in the first half, from Friday's loss to Honduras in Couva and present a much more formidable front against the Panamanians? Should they somehow come away with three points from that encounter it won't be on the same scale as what the Caribbean cricketers achieved on that unforgettable Tuesday under lights.
But if they were to follow it up with success next month in Mexico City and then at home to the United States, then we can talk about this late effort being ranked among unbelievable sporting comebacks. If the result doesn't come tomorrow though, well, it will be yet another case of what-could-have-been for a nation that has the unenviable distinction as one of the few to be thrown into utter footballing chaos after making it to the game's greatest stage for the first time ever.
If soul-searching and brutal honesty are what helped transform the West Indies performances in England, it appears that won't be enough to make a difference among Lawrence's troops. Hasn't he spoken over and over again in the immediate aftermath of yet another disappointing result about the repetitive shortcomings: defensive frailty, starting strong and finishing strong, and taking the opportunities that come their way? In other words, playing the game the way it should be played at the highest level.
So when does patience run out? When does the coach realise that, for whatever reason, there are too many players in his squad either unwilling to or incapable of delivering what he expects of them? When is one more chance one chance too many? Can these players really get it together and, at the very least, come away from Panama with a repeat win that at least gives him something to build on ahead of the final two games in October?
If tomorrow's result confirms the answer to the last question to be “no,” Lawrence has no choice but to engage in the sort of team restructuring that will earn him many enemies but ultimately redound to the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago football, assuming he is allowed to engage in the necessary drastic surgery.
Before Headingley, it was thought that Law had to do the same with a woefully inept squad. Scoring 317 runs for the loss of five wickets on the last day has halted that dialogue...for now. With three wins in their last six matches the West Indies Test team is making progress no doubt.
For the T&T footballers, though, it has to be three in three, not three in six. If not, then what?