Sat, Sep

SCOTLAND are bigger and better than Brazil. In the mind of Brent Sancho at least, that is. When the dreadlocked Dundee defender earns his 29th cap for Trinidad & Tobago at Easter Road this afternoon, he will finally fulfil a fixture he has been playing out regularly in his head for the last few months.

The match may seem like little more than a routine international friendly to most of us, but that doesn't stop the 27-year-old rating it as the most important in his inter-national career. Bar none.

The afternoon in Port of Spain when he played against a Brazil side inspired by the sublime talents of Ronaldinho is relegated to a poor second. In case you were wondering, the margin of the defeat has also been conveniently been resigned to the history books.

"It was the Olympic team that we played against so we played against Ronaldinho, Alex, former Roma striker Fabio Junior and those kind of guys," Sancho said, "so it was an unbelievable experience. I remember rubbing shoulders with Ronaldinho a couple of times.

"I certainly saw the back of him disappearing away from me. But I would still say that this is probably the biggest game I've played in so far.

"It is important to play in front of all my fans from Dundee and show to people that Trinidad are no push-overs, and have a team of good quality."

It is certainly something for James McFadden to live up to.

It was another friendly - against Dundee on their last pre-season tour to Trinidad - that won him a move to Scotland, but there is one thing that separates Sancho from the rest of the hopefuls in the Trinidadian team currently plying their trade in the SPL.

At the age of 15, after all, he moved with his family from the Caribbean to New York. An adolescence spent on the eastern seaboard of the USA would see him go to university, and play for the New York/ New Jersey Metrostars in the MLS and then Portland Timbers in the lowlier American soccer league. There were also some other dramas, however.

Sancho worked in the World Trade Center, and lost some of his friends when the twin towers shuddered to the concrete on September 11, 2001. "I was there for about eight years in total," he said. "I worked in the World Trade Center, I've lived there and I know what it was like when the terrorist attacks happened, and how devastating it was for the city. It was a tough situation all right.

"When I moved there at first I always had aunts and uncles and cousins out there - and in New York there is a huge West Indian population. All the things I could get in Trinidad were in New York - the food, the music - so I wasn't homesick in any way."

The transition has been equally seamless since his departure for that other sprawling city, Dundee, even though it has been one of the more eventful seasons in the turbulent recent off-field history of one of the local football clubs.

In no particular order, after his eventual arrival from Trinidadian side Joe Public, Sancho has had to sweat it out over receiving his work permit on appeal, watch the club lurch into administration, battle back from injury and lose a CIS Cup semi- final in the last minute (at Easter Road, of all places), only for the club to take recent definite steps back from the abyss with the agreement between the creditors being resolved in order to avoid a 10- point penalty for next season.

Whether it has been in central defence or in a deep-lying midfield role, Sancho has been something of a success story.

While Lee Mair and Dave Mackay depart Dundee for the Nationwide League, he is sure still to be here next season.

"It has been a rollercoaster season all right," he said. "But reading the newspapers on Monday and finding out that the club is nearly out of administration is probably the best news I've had for a long time. Because the day when we came into work and saw players getting told that they couldn't get kept on, and they didn't have anything else to do - you know young players who didn't even make the headlines - will always probably be one of the saddest days that I have had as a professional."

The departure of Gavin Rae to Rangers, and injury to Wilkie, hands Trinidad & Tobago the bizarre achievement of having more Tayside- based players in their squad than Scotland. With Dundee United's Collin Samuel also featuring, head coach Bertille St Clair even had the luxury of leaving out Jason Scotland, one of the SPL's in-form strikers.

Sancho, who will line-up alongside Rangers new boy Marvin Andrews at the back, is joined by seven English-based players in the squad - including Portsmouth goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and Birmingham striker Stern John. There are also two familiar faces, in Jerren Nixon and Arnold Dwarika - once of Dundee United and East Fife respectively. With Trinidadian Jack Warner as Fifa vice-president and CONCACAF president (North American equivalent of Uefa's Lennart Johansson) also in the camp, Trinidad may be small, but they're well connected.

Whether or not this is their most naturally talented squad yet, it is certainly their most professional. They should have no inhibitions regarding the amount of foreign-based nationals in their squad, and 13 players in the pool have more than 25 caps to their name.

The experience should come in handy. In order to reach World Cup 2006 in Germany, and be the first side from that country ever to do so, they must win a two-legged play-off against the Dominican Republic, finish in the top two in a resultant group of four, then finish in the top three of the final qualifying group of six. Were they to finish fourth in this final section, that would mean another play-off, this time against the fifth-best team in Asia.

It is all enough to make Berti Vogts' prospects of qualifying seem not too bad, but there is a definite optimism in the camp that this can be achieved, and that the nation can shrug off its reputation for being keener to party than prepare on the training ground. "We have an unbelievably talented team personnel wise, but for us the major stumbling block has always been getting the team to gel. This team is maybe the only one that has managed to become a proper team.

"When you have two ambassadors in Trinidadian football like Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy and they are labelled as partygoers, then that reputation will spread, but that is definitely not true of this team," he added.

Sancho's wisened old coach, who looks as though he has seen most things in the game, is not quite so sure. He says some of his players do "still treat the game as amateurs" and admits they "are still looking for players", but he does have a few analyses that will concern Scotland-watchers.

"I look at the Scotland team and I think we can match them stride for stride," St Clair said. "Also, several of our guys are now playing over here, so I don't think there is much difference between the two teams. And although I haven't really been watching what has happened to Berti Vogts, what I do know is football is always based on results. You might be trying to develop something, but other people aren't going to have the same patience as you."

Another win for Vogts might just purchase him some more patience.