JAMAAL SHABAZZ, coach of the Trinidad and Tobago women’s football team, is concerned over the depth of quality players available for selection, as the squad prepare for the start of their 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign.
The national team will play Panama in a pair of friendly internationals, at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva tomorrow and at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella on Saturday.
The women’s team are also scheduled to feature in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Women’s Challenge Series, from April 18-29, before the World Cup qualifiers kick off in March.
Shabazz, speaking before a training session at the aforementioned Couva venue yesterday, expressed his immediate concern over the future crop of T&T women’s players.
“We’ve got to build, not just a team for the next (qualifiers) but build the programme so we could be able to turn out more players,” said Shabazz. “Right now, the amount of players graduating to the (women’s team) is frightening.”
Asked to elaborate, Shabazz replied, “We’re not seeing the immediate replacements for the Tasha St Louis, Maylee Attin-Johnson, Ahkeela Mollon. We have the elite programme but that’s still four (to) five years down the road. We’ve seen talent but what will bring that talent to the readiness to say, ‘this is a senior national player’.”
However, Shabazz’s immediate focus is ensuring that the women’s team gain adequate preparations ahead of their World Cup Qualifiers.
“It’s just what the doctor ordered before you go into (the Qualifiers), against a Central American opponent,” said the T&T coach. “This is really good for us because Central Americans teams are usually (better than) the Caribbean teams. We’ll look to answer a lot of questions about how our preparations have been going.”
Trinidad and Tobago failed in three attempts to book a spot in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
A few players from that squad will be involved in the Panama matches.
Shabazz admitted, “We have a couple players like Tasha St Louis, Ayanna Russell, Patrice Superville who are coming to the evening of their careers. We’ve tried to re-introduce some of the players like Karyn Forbes (and) Mariah Shade who still have something in them.
“But we’re also using this as an opportunity to integrate some of the U-20s who have shown the ability to step up to the other level,” he continued. “It gives us time to integrate the players and to widen the pool so that, if for some reason the veterans (are) unable to participate, we can call on some of the younger ones.”
Shabazz also stated that plans are afoot to get another pair of friendly matches, against Costa Rica, within the next few weeks.
Shabazz, who was in charge of the national Under-20 women’s team during their ill-fated CONCACAF Championships, which were staged at the Ato Boldon Stadium, hopes that some of those selected on the ‘senior’ team will be able to cope with the pressure of playing at home.
“The friendly matches provide an opportunity for them playing at home and to better deal with the psychological pressure,” said Shabazz. “Playing in front the home crowd provides a different type of pressure for the younger ones. The more we can do it and the more successful the results, we expect their confidence to build.”
Concerning the players who are either born/resident or based in North America, Shabazz said, “We’ve been in contact with every single player who is eligible to play for the national team. We’ve even started to identify new ones.
“The response has been decent,” he added. “We’ve brought in four for these matches and, for the matches to come, we intend to mix it up a bit, and as they become available, invite more and more.”
Referring to the friendly games, as well as the Challenge Series, the ex-national and Guyana men’s team coach said, “It’s a great opportunity to start widening the pool and becoming more competitive.”