With COVID-19 cases spiralling out of control and the death rate rising like if one is watching some form of Sci-Fi film along with the newly enforced State of Emergency, one is hopeful that as Trinis, we all finally wake up to the reality that this virus frighteningly is with us. As a result, there is truly no other choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the Ministry of Health; stay at home please unless you are faced with no alternative such as going out for food/medical supplies or if you are unable to work from home.
This stay at home measure gives us more time to catch up on our sports as the rest of the world seems to be getting back slowly but surely to some kind of normality. The English Premier League has allowed teams with a home fixture in the final two rounds to accommodate 10,000 fans into their venues but still adhering to guidelines - wearing masks etc. Two tournaments that have piqued my interest were the CONCACAF Futsal Championship held in Guatemala City which led to 4 countries qualifying for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania from September 12 to October 6, 2021. The other tournament which is being played currently in Costa Rica is the 2021 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championships. Trinidad and Tobago are in a tough group with hosts Costa Rica and the United States.
The top two teams from each of the 3 groups and the two best third-place teams advance to the quarter-finals even though the beach Soca Warriors have lost their first two games, they can still go through if they win their final game convincingly. The prize for the finalists will be guaranteed spots at the 2021 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia from August 19 - 29. However, let's journey back to the Futsal Soca Warriors who lost to newcomers Dominican Republic (DR) 6-2 and then to the hosts Guatemala 4-3 in a much closer encounter. Admittedly I did not expect much from the futsal men. I did not believe that their preparation was good enough and they looked tactically out of depth against the DR who seemed more determined than T&T. Perhaps as newcomers to the tournament, they were keen to prove that they had every right to be taking part and they were not going to be the whipping boys for other teams.
I’m uncertain if the futsal Soca Warriors underestimated the DR but they never got into the game and so, after losing the encounter, mission impossible was next on the agenda to beat one of the tournament favourites - the host country. The task was not just to win but win by 4 clear goals. T&T showed effort as they gave the Guatemalans a good fight and in the end, they were unlucky to lose. I kept wondering where this team was against the DR. Why didn't they play like this as if they did, they would have won their opening game. Che Benny scored one of the goals of the tournament but the team should have found reason to believe that there is potential for future success with better preparation.
The question is where does T&T go from here concerning futsal? Some form of research will prove that most of the top countries have proper run leagues and the correct facilities to play futsal. The venue in Guatemala looked in pristine condition. Somehow, T&T needs to get some sort of facility to match what I saw in Guatemala. There exists a culture of small goal football in this country so I believe that with proper planning, T&T can compete with the top CONCACAF countries when it comes to futsal. I am uncertain whether a development programme exists for futsal in the country and hopefully the Ministry of Sport or the Sports Company will meet more in-depth with the futsal officials to find out the way forward. The Key will be ascertaining how interest can be garnered in the sport to attract more players and how to develop the sport. A proper plan must be articulated. At times, T&T’s preparations and subsequent performances in many of these competitions amplify the view held by some that the team plays because of its membership with CONCACAF and must simply participate.
The T&T beach soccer squad seemed to have been better prepared even though they lost their opening games. Again, how many times have we seen various national teams go to tournaments not adequately prepared and just depend on raw talent? We all know that talent alone is not enough but somehow this team seemed different. FIFA has made beach soccer into a bigger sport than originally when it was first played. There would be the detractors who would quickly say this type of football is only good for when you go to Maracas Beach and you want to sweat before taking a dip. But like any other sport, in beach soccer one has to plan tactically against your opponents, where is their strength etc.
I understand the sand in Costa Rica is different to the sand where other countries play. The variation with the bounce on this sand appears to be unnerving for the teams. For example, in T&T, the ball typically sticks in the sand with little to no bounce - this seems to be the complete opposite to what many teams are accustomed to. All the countries were only allowed 45 minutes to train at the venue so the Costa Ricans seemed to have a significant advantage by playing at home.
Some of T&T’s shooting and movement left much to be desired. However, the team showed a good spirit, never gave up and fighting the Costa Ricans right to the final whistle was indeed admirable. They came up short by 5 goals to 3. I thought they would have done better against the Americans as like T&T, acclimatising to the conditions would have also been difficult for the US team but their shooting was excellent and they seemed very composed when they were in front of the beach warriors goal. Losing 5-2 was another disappointment for the team however, with those difficult games behind the T&T team, there is still hope they can beat Turks & Caicos by a wide margin and sneak into the quarter-finals and who knows what can happen from there.
In my view, there is room in the sporting landscape for both futsal and beach soccer to become popular. Let us start a league, train coaches, match officials etc. and introduce the games to the younger people ensuring the difference between all the types of football that is played in the country. The futsal national team showed great promise and the officials must ensure the momentum is kept up and that T&T teams don’t just wait until the next tournament comes around. In speaking with the beach soccer officials, I know they have plans for the advancement of beach soccer in this country - or should we call it beach football? Let's hope both sports further put T&T on the world map.
SOURCE: T&T Guardian