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T&T U-17sMembers of the T&T Under-17 squad at the Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort, Panama, yesterday. T&T tackles Canada in a Group B encounter in the Concacaf Under-17 Championship which begins tonight in Panama.

T&T’s under-17 footballers will be seeking an opening victory as they begin the final round of Concacaf qualification against Canada in the tournament curtain-raiser at the Estadio Agustin Muquita Sanchez in La Chorrera, Panama, on Saturday night from 6.30 pm (7.30 pm T&T time).

The match is the first of two for the T&T team as they come up against Group B opponents Costa Rica on Tuesday. The top two teams from the three-team group will advance to the quarterfinals next week from which the four semifinalists will qualify for the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October.

The team, under head coach Shawn Cooper, had a first training session on Panamanian soil on Friday evening at the match venue where the playing surface is astro turf.

The last time T&T qualified for the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea in 2007, they scored a 2-1 win over Canada in Kingston to pick up three valuable points. Leston Paul and Stephon Knox were the scorers then for T&T. But in 2011, needing a win against the Canadians to advance to the World Cup, in a match also played in Jamaica, T&T were 0-2 losers.

“I think this time we are a bit more experienced and we have a better idea what to expect from Canada,” Cooper said yesterday.

“We’ve worked hard. We’ve streamlined our build-up and while we expect Canada to be no pushovers, we are also keen to show that we have what it takes to compete with the higher ranked teams in Concacaf at this level of the game,” he noted.

Cooper wants his team to settle quickly on Saturday night. T&T will rely on the experience of the likes of US-based midfielder Andre Fortune as well as Houston Dynamo pair defender Sterling Noreiga and goalkeeper Johan Welch, who have both been part of the US Soccer Development Academy.

The performances of speedy Akeem Garcia and Shannon Gomez, who were also part of the T&T under-20 team should prove to be crucial to T&T’s chances with able support from midfielder Matthew Woo Ling and forward Brent Sam who netted six goals against the BVI.
 
“They key to us getting a good result will be a good start. We need to settle quickly and try to take control of the game. If we don’t start too brightly then we also have to try and stay in the match for as a long as possible and then try to push for the victory,” he added.

Team captain Brendon Creed believes the team has come a long way since topping their Caribbean group with victories over British Virgin Islands (23-0), Suriname (3-1) and Guyana (2-0).

“We’ve come some way since the last round. The guys are a lot more focused and we’ve matured also. I think the training together and playing some of the practice games we got helped us along the way. We’re ready to go and get three points in our opening game against Canada,” Creed said.
 
US-based midfielder Andre Fortune (North Carolina Fusion) also thinks a win could be on the cards for T&T but will is guarding against any form of complacency.

“A win is what we want in all three games from here into the quarterfinals,” Fortune said.

“It’s been a good build up for us. The guys are confident but we aren’t going to be complacent. I know Canada can be a tough team to break down so we have to make sure we go out there and do all the right things and give a good, overall team effort if we are to come out successful.”

Canada have as many as twelve players attached to clubs in American Major League Soccer (MLS).
 
Hosts Panama faces Jamaica in the second game from 8 pm at the same venue. The other groups are Group A—Barbados, Jamaica, Panama; Group C—Guatemala, Haiti, USA and Group D—Cuba, Honduras and Mexico.

T&T 20-man squad

Brendon Creed (captain), Stephon Seepersad, Johan Welch, Josiah Trimmingham (goalkeeper), Martieon Watson, Shannon Gomez, Maurice Ford, Leland Archer, Sterling Noreiga, Jarred Dass, Levi Garcia, Kishun Seecharan, Matthew Woo Ling, Aikim Andrews, Anderson Toussaint, Jabari Mitchell, Andre Fortune, Akeem Garcia, Brent Sam, Weah Adams.

VIDEO: - Meet the National Under 17 Men's Team