IT was everything that was required, and much, much more.
Trinidad and Tobago gave as efficient a performance as was necessary in its semi-final Group C World Cup qualifier, last Sunday - with the just reward coming in the 85th minute, when Russell Latapy fired beyond Jorge Campos, to give this country its first senior international victory over Mexico since 1973.
What this all means is that Trinidad and Tobago has managed to defeat both group favourites, Mexico and Canada, and has now increased its tally to a full six points from two matches.
While one may wish to single out one or two individuals, the fact of the matter was that the entire team rose to meet the challenge that was there before it: the defence stubbornly held out and managed to keep the likes of Luis Hernandez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco at bay for long periods; the midfield, which barely existed in Edmonton a week earlier, was on par with the opposition; in addition, Latapy finally played a major role in attack, where Arnold Dwarika stood out in the forward line. Finally, Clayton Ince was rock-solid in goal. The custodian that looked so out of sorts in Canada was nowhere to be seen at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Instead, we witnessed the return of the Clayton Ince that we actually prefer: a man who has consistently stood out since making the No. 1 jersey his own, three years ago. On Sunday, he made two crucial saves and was always well positioned to collect any shot that happened to be on target.
It was a fine, all-round effort and deserves to be commended as such.
Yet, one must also adopt a cautionary stance. There are still four more games to go in the group and there is a break of three weeks until the next fixture in Panama City. It is important that the national team does not relinquish its momentum and ends up struggling against Panama – a team that Trinidad and Tobago is capable of beating twice and collecting an additional six points. One must consider the fact that this country still has to face Mexico and Canada again, with the former fixture scheduled for the rarefied confines of Mexico City.
Furthermore, a particularly familiar problem should be anticipated: the return of the much-beloved clubs vs. country imbroglio. The 2000-01 football season in Europe is just around the corner, and that first game with Panama will be the last before the heavy action gets underway. Will the clubs, collectively, be more lenient towards the TTFF in the first weeks of the new season? Or, will they seek to stamp their authority from the get go?
These are questions that should be answered by early September. In the meantime, the major priority for the national team is to focus intensely on that next game. A total of twelve points should represent “safe ground” in a group such as this. Anything more, of course, will be a great bonus. The important thing, though, is recognizing that, for now, the national team is only half way through its assignment and that there is still plenty of business to be taken care of.
RUSSELL LATAPY – PRO-file
NAME: Russell Latapy
DATE OF BIRTH: August 2 , 1968
HOMETOWN: Laventille, Port of Spain
CLUB: Hibernian (Sco)
PREVIOUS CLUBS: Trintoc, Port Morant United (Jca), Academica Coimbra (Por), FC Porto (Por), Boavista (Por)
POST-SECONDARY SCHOOL: San Fernando Technical Institute
SECONDARY SCHOOL: Tranquility Government Secondary (Port of Spain)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Won two Portuguese League titles with FC Porto (1994-95 and 1995-96) and became the first Trinidadian to appear in the European Champions’ League during the second season. These achievements came more than a decade after leading San Fernando Tech. to the national championship (“Big Seven”) and National Intercol double in 1985. Latapy has also represented Trinidad and Tobago in two out of this country’s four appearances in the Gold Cup: 1991 and 1996.
OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS: Latapy has been Trinidad and Tobago Footballer of the Year on four occasions: 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1996.
DID YOU KNOW?: Latapy was a spokesman for MasterCard.