With two games left on the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, coach Dennis Lawrence has already shifted his focus to 2022 in Qatar, which is evident from the squad selected on Tuesday for the coming matches, consisting mainly of newcomers.
Former T&T defender was again in defensive mood at a press conference at the National Cycling Centre (NCC) in Balmain Couva yesterday, saying the change came from a two-tier decision made when he became national coach. “We discussed the two-tier plan which was (1) We knew we had Russia so we were going to give Russia our best shot, and in the second tier we haven’t qualified for Russia, so how do we move forward with respect to developing a football philosophy for our country and how are we going to develop players.”
Lawrence who took over the team in the midst of controversial circumstances that included the removal of Stephen Hart following two successive defeats, as well as the retiring of Belgian Tom Saintfiet for lack of support from the TTFA and its president David John Williams, called for a development process that will enable the country to be dominant in the Caribbean first, as he revealed the country has not won anything in the Caribbean for 16 years.
He explained the selection of the team was based on the direction the team is heading, noting that it is now an ideal opportunity to integrate the young players in the team set-up, which will expose them to what it will be like to play at top international football. Among his inexperienced team to face Mexico on October 6 at the Estadio Alfonso Lastras and four days later against the United States at the Ato Boldon Stadium, are Kathon St Hillaire of MIC St Ann’s Rangers and Josiah Trimmingham from Club Sando.
Lawrence also has his eyes focused on Keston Julien who plays for AS Trencin in Slovakia and central midfielder Neveal Hackshaw who represents Charleston Battery in the USL, but Julien he said, has not played with his club since August 12. He believes it will be unfair to select an international player who has not been getting playing time ahead of players in the TT Pro League who have been performing well.
He also sought to defend the non-selection of defender Sheldon Bateau who has been bugged down by club commitments. He later fended off blame attributed to him for the team’s early exit from the world cup, saying “Unfortunately we did not qualify for Russia for many obvious reasons.
“The first thing I started to do was to look at myself and question what can I do better and how can I improve. As regards to my experience as a coach, I don’t think it was the reason we did not qualify, I think it was our performance.”
Though no decision has been made on the status of the team’s technical staff to date, Lawrence said he will sit with assistant coach Sol Campbell to find out if the ex England international will want to stay on board for the long term, as he was initially taken in for the qualifiers.