IT wasn’t just how badly Trinidad and Tobago performed, but the extent to which it was outplayed by the home side in San Jose, last week.
Costa Rica virtually tore the visitors’ defence to pieces in the second half and demonstrated such technical superiority that, by the end of the game, Trinidad and Tobago hardly looked a side that deserved to be on the same pitch as its hosts. Goalkeeper Shaka Hislop tried his best throughout the onslaught, but eventually became a stranded man, as the instances of balls flying straight towards his goal got more and more frequent.
It is true that most of the attacks came down Trinidad and Tobago’s right side, hence the flak that has been tossed at full back Cyd Gray, who was appearing in only his second full international. However, to be quite fair, Gray was not the only defence man who laboured in San Jose. What about the other defenders who were comprehensively beaten by the slick Costa Rican passing? What about those that simply stood up and watched as Paulo Wanchope tapped in his second goal, after they had been left in the wake of William Sunsing’s run, just seconds before? What about the midfield engine that broke down and allowed the marauding Costa Ricans to have free runs at the defence?
In the end, it was the Trinidad and Tobago team that failed as a whole during the second half. It had been a different story in the first 45 minutes, when the visitors pretty much held their own and managed to conjure up a couple of good chances. But, what we witnessed in the second session was a complete breakdown in organization, most likely aided by Steven Bryce’s goal, scored within seconds of the resumption. Which is bad of course, since no team at this level should allow itself to collapse on the basis of conceding a goal. But this is not the first time that something like this has occurred, and a notable example was last year’s Gold Cup opener against Mexico, when Trinidad and Tobago put on a lively display for the first 36 minutes, before its opponent managed to get one in the back of the net. Everything fell apart after that and Mexico went on to triumph 4-0.
But, going beyond Costa Rica’s first goal, last Wednesday's defeat also formed part of a poor run that included the opening final group loss to Jamaica and a poor display against Guatemala. In that game, Trinidad and Tobago never got into any sort of rhythm and failed to impress the home crowd at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Even more worrying, the Guatemalans, who only comprise a modest unit, actually demonstrated superior technique in both attack and defence, despite losing 3-1.
This points to a major problem, since it confirms that whenever Trinidad and Tobago deviates away from its game plan, goes into a match without its top players or fails to play to the best of its ability, the team’s deficiencies become severely exposed. Unlike some of the weaker teams that this country has played in recent times, the other sides in this final round group are all capable of effectively taking advantage of any weaknesses that become too obvious.
As it is, Trinidad and Tobago is now being asked to remain unbeaten throughout the rest of the qualifying campaign and even win the majority, if not all, of its eight remaining games. Recent performances certainly cast some doubt as to whether this country’s team is capable of achieving this feat. However coach Ian Porterfield, in the Trinidad Guardian, pointed out that there is still time for Trinidad and Tobago to get back into the race. That may be true, but the Guardian also stated that “nothing else than victory” will do in the next game against Mexico on April 25, since a third straight defeat would almost certainly prove fatal.
Thus, Trinidad and Tobago has found itself in an extremely unenviable position: having to win against the strongest team in the group. It is going to take a superhuman effort on the part of the entire home side to get things back on track. The national team does not have the same depth as some of its rivals, therefore, it will have to play well in EVERY match from now on and will, indeed, have to win each of its five home matches and pick up valuable points away from home.
On paper Trinidad and Tobago is still capable of reaching the “safe haven” of 18 points. But this will only come at the expense of some extremely hard work from now on. It is now a do-or-die emergency situation and all concerned must do nothing less than treat the Mexico game as if it is a major final, or else.