JUST as Trinidad and Tobago benefited from the presence of Panama in its semi-final round World Cup-qualifying group, it will be in this country’s best interest if Guatemala manages to eclipse Costa Rica in its play-off match, and makes it to the final round.
This is simply because Costa Rica is potentially a top-three favourite to qualify for its second World Cup finals, while Guatemala is a modest team that has managed to get by on determination and the home advantage generated in the passionate and steamy confines of Mazatenango – the Pacific coast city where the country’s football authorities have, so far, decided to stage their home games.
It does not matter that Costa Rica has wound up in a position of having to play-off for a final round spot. With players such as Hernan Medford, Paulo Wanchope and Jafet Soto, the Costa Ricans are one of the best: and the best always have the advantage over the others in terms of talent and resources to make the most of a second chance. This is why France and Italy can make it to the European Championship final after less-than-satisfactory qualifying displays.
As for Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago was able to record a convincing 4-2 victory the last time the two countries met at the Gold Cup, last February. It is true that the Guatemalans have improved since then. However, they have their limits and it is crucial that Trinidad and Tobago achieves victories in all four of its meetings against Guatemala and Jamaica – wins that may represent the key to qualification for the World Cup.
As for the other teams, this country will have to go for the classic qualifying group formula of gaining full points at home, while earning draws away. This may best be attained against Honduras: a team that should be included among the top trio of favourites to make it to the Big Dance, should the Costa Ricans fail to advance. The Hondurans were very exciting in reaching the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup and have outstanding players such as Nicolas Suazo and Carlos Pavon. But, they are have always been prone to disappointment and this could make them vulnerable, once again. The two other favourites, Mexico and the USA, will be tougher elements to encounter. Both teams are strong and have good pedigree: Mexico has eleven World Cup appearances to its name, while the Americans have been at the last three tournaments. Still, there are a couple of things that could work in Trinidad and Tobago’s favour: while there are certainly no guarantees in Mexico City, we now know that Mexico can be beaten away; the Americans continue to improve as time goes along but still tend to struggle a bit in top competitions and can be handled effectively by a well-prepared opponent.
Overall, it is going to be tough. There are ten games to get through over the course of next year, with a recommended target of 18 points. In addition, this country’s opponents will represent the strongest group of teams ever to compete in the Football Confederation final round, with basically every one having a good shot at making it.
This will require its top players for EVERY match. The onus will be on the TTFF to simply let the European club sides know that their Trinidadian and Tobagonian players will be required for ten games during the remainder of the 2000-01 season and the beginning of the 2001-02 term. Finally, it is important that the mistakes of 1989 are not repeated in anyway. The national team should be adequately prepared going into the final phase in order to get a good start. Once this is attained, the team should then concentrate on maintaining form and consistency in the succeeding games, racking up the points until qualification is all wrapped up with time to spare.
It should not come down to the final game.