T&T’s beach soccer players will depart for Jamaica today en route to The Bahamas for the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers, fresh off an encouraging come-from-behind 4-1 victory over a select Brazil all-star team, on Friday night.
The friendly match was played at Saith Park, Chaguanas, with T&T taking a reassuring result ahead of its inaugural competitive outing as a recognised beach soccer team. The Concacaf qualification tournament will kick off on Wednesday.
The home team rebounded confidently from a 1-0 deficit inflicted by Brazil’s Cai Carvalho in the first of three periods, with a goal from former national defender Makan Hislop in the second period. The Tobago-born Hislop, a cousin of legendary T&T custodian Shaka Hislop has made a strong case for automatic selection after impressing for his club BagoSports, which boasts of five players on the 12-man national beach soccer squad.
Not long into the third and final period, former University of South Carolina forward Hakeem King scored to hand T&T its first lead of the encounter. T&T midfielder Elijah Roberts subsequently doubled up and a Brazil-own goal by Gabriel Novaes ensured a spirited victory for the World Cup hopefuls.
It was an essential test courtesy of connections made by T&T’s Brazilian head coach Alexandre Soares, who invited the players for the friendly. Soares, a four-time Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup winner, issued the invitation to the players, some of whom have already made a visit to T&T in a successful challenge of the BagoSports Invitational Beach Soccer Championship, in Tobago, last year. Brazil won the said tournament, while the host finished third.
This time around, however, several players who represented BagoSport in the competition, and are now on the national team were able to exact revenge against what was then the stronger team.
“It was a good and important challenge for us,” said deft T&T playmaker Chad Appoo.
“We’re up against Mexico in the qualifiers and Brazil probably possesses the closest style and quality comparable to what we’ll be up against with Mexico.”
Mexico, the highest-ranked beach soccer nation in the confederation, is also the defending champion in the Concacaf Fifa qualifying competition.
T&T will open its Group B campaign against Canada on Wednesday at Malcolm Park Beach Soccer and Futsal Facility, in Nassau, at midday local time, just hours before Guyana, the other tournament debutant, meets Mexico in the evening.
A day later T&T will face Mexico, then Guyana in its final test on Friday. Up for grabs are two available Concacaf spots for the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup to be staged in Tahiti of the Oceana confederation, in November. Only the two Concacaf qualification tournament finalists will advance to the World Cup. The final will be held on Sunday.
Speaking ahead of the team’s first trip, the team’s skipper Ryan Augustine, expressed genuine confidence in his team’s ability to take positive results from each of the three matches.
“Our chances are very good,” said Augustine.
“Mexico recently played Bahamas and beat them 6-5 in a close match, so we feel we’re able to seal a win.
“The coach has been preparing us for the individual matches, to treat them differently. Against Mexico we will have certain advantages such as our strength and height so we will have to exploit that.”
The Guyanese team was also represented at the BagoSport invitational tournament last year, and lost to the host, which had at its disposal six players who are on the national team.
Augustine implied much of the team’s confidence has come with the experience of the four-time World Cup winning coach.
“The coach has made an impact since day one. He’s a great coach. We’re been training for a month and a half, and the team has since jelled and built a strong relationship.”
The team is set to depart for Jamaica from 8 am today, and will stay overnight before making the short journey to the Bahamas.
T&T team: Zane Coker, Victor Thomas, Ryan Augustine (capt), Makan Hislop, Elijah Roberts, Shallun Bobb, Jesse Bailey, Rodney Nelson, Chad Appoo, Hakeem King, Lemuel Lyons, Dominic McDougall.
Coach: Alexandre Soares
Asst coach: Benvan Astorga
Physio: Jason Pilgrim
Manager: Yuri Chapman
T&T Fifa World Cup Qualifiers (Concacaf) Group B Schedule:
T&T v Canada, 12 pm
T&T v Mexico, 5 pm
T&T v Guyana, 12 pm