Thu, Jul


IT has happened before…will it occur now?

We are talking about Trinidad and Tobago football and the penchant for following up brilliant highs with forgettable lows.

For example, in 1989 it was the 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over El Salvador in Port of Spain, being succeeded by the horrid 0-0 draw in the return game - a result that, upon reflection, proved lethal in the end.

More recently, there was the case of this country's outstanding performance in the Gold Cup last February, where a semi-final spot was claimed for the first time ever. The euphoria that surrounded that event was rapidly quashed by the circumstances involving the sacking of coach Bertille St. Clair, and the barring of three players from the national team: David Nakhid, Jerren Nixon and Michael McComie. Subsequently, there were the less-than-impressive displays during the first three-rounds of the current World Cup qualifiers, against the likes of the Netherlands Antilles, Dominican Republic and Haiti. And, to make sure that the Gold Cup experience became a distant memory, the national team then went 1-3-2 in a series of friendly internationals: results that included a 2-1 loss to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Of course, the bad run is apparently all over and Trinidad and Tobago is now sitting atop its semi-final group, following victories over the two favourites: Mexico and Canada. The major questions now are: How long will it last? Can the national team maintain the momentum gained from those two important victories? Will this country’s players continue raising their game to the required level? Or will next Wednesday’s game against a lesser, but plucky, opponent turn out to be a struggle?

There was a time when Panama was one of the weakest countries in Central American football. Yet, these days the Panamanians seem to be made of some pretty resilient material. They managed to hold out against Mexico, until the 88th minute, in their opening 1-0 loss in Panama City, and they also fought Canada to a 0-0 draw. However, Panama is also a team that Trinidad and Tobago is very capable of beating twice for an additional six points.

But, whether Trinidad and Tobago is capable of completing this task will depend a lot upon the mind set that will be carried into next week’s game. First of all, one must accept the fact that the Football Confederation 2002 World Cup-qualifying competition is far from over. There are still four more games to go in this stage: to be followed by an additional ten in the final round. So, any notions of Trinidad and Tobago being World Cup-bound must be postponed until December 2001. The national team has to continue performing at a consistently high level. In light of the tough fight that Panama is likely give; it is important that Trinidad and Tobago approach this game in the same manner that it approached the encounter against Mexico.

Motivation is the key factor: being able to view every game as an opportunity to gain valuable points. More succinctly, it is the ability to view the Panamanians in their true colours: a strong but limited bunch, prepared to give it their all  in spite of their lack of pedigree. On one hand, they are a group of fighters: on the other they represent this country’s weakest group opponents and they can, and should be, beaten twice.

Once the Trinidad and Tobago national team recognizes this fact and decides to continue playing at the required level, then there is no reason why a couple of victories, and points, cannot be achieved.