T&T must watch-out for spoilers.
St Vincent knows well nothing more than a big win against T&T today in Kingstown from 3pm would give them a temporary lifeline and better their very slim chances of getting to Russia, but, are also wary that a lost would officially eliminate them out of contention for a place in next year's fifth round qualification.
Trinidad and Tobago national football team on the other hand must do all in its power to cool down the Vincy Heat and try to sneak in a win that would put them inches away from qualification into next year's Hex.
The Soca Warriors are in supreme position to qualify for the final round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying CONCACAF series next year, but first, they have to get past an erratic St Vincent & the Grenadines side, a team that has never made it out of the Group stages and into the Hexagonal.
Obviously, the odds are stacked in T&T's favour but with St Vincent playing host in a field that isn't the best and the pressure of qualifying for the next round seems dubious, T&T could be in for the toughest battle of its group games thus far.
Both teams are scheduled to meet in back-to-back home-and-away matches on March 25th and March 29th respectively. St Vincent will take first honours of hosting the Soca Panmen at the Arnos Vale Stadium from 3:30pm. Four days later, T&T will return the honours at the Hasley Crawford Stadium from 7pm.
A double win for the 8-time Caribbean Champs could see them through to the next round and a guaranteed elimination for St Vincent.
The Hexagonal or, Hex as some may know it, has been used by CONCACAF to determine its World Cup finals entrants since the qualification tournament for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The Hex will be played from 7 November 2016 to 10 October 2017.
The format is pretty straight-forward, the three group winners and the three runners-up from the fourth round will play against each other home-and-away in a round-robin format in a single group. The top three teams in the group will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the fourth-placed team will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.
Before the Hex existed, the Soca Warriors were a force to be reckoned with in CONCACAF. In 1973 they were cheated out of a spot to qualify for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany. The Panmen lost a crucial game 2-1 on December 4th 1973 against hosts Haiti after being denied five goals. The referee, José Roberto Henríquez of El Salvador, and Canadian linesman James Higuet were subsequently banned for life by FIFA for the dubious events of the match.
A few World Cups later, T&T were at it again, this time, it really rocked the nation as the 1989 Strike Squad came within one point of qualifying for the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals in Italy only to see their dreams shattered.
The local boys needed only a draw to qualify in their final game played at home against the United States on the 19th of November 1989. In-front of a sold-out crowd at the National Stadium, midfielder Paul Caligiuri scored the only goal of the game in the 38th minute that dashed Trinidad and Tobago's World Cup hopes and left the nation in grief and disbelief.
A few unsuccessful and heartbreak campaigns later, T&T would finally get their day in paradise when they qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. It was an historic event, apart from being its first ever, they became the tiniest country to do so. Kudos to coach Leo Beenhakker and his troops.
At this stage, St Vincent & the Grenadines is probably the weakest team on paper but have had some impressive results since 2014, losing only 4 out of 18.
Getting to this stage was quite interesting for them. In June 2015, they drew both legs (2-2, 4-4) against Guyana, a team that knocked T&T out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. St Vincent had progressed on goal difference against the South American's.
The results did not sit well for Guyana, their General Secretary T&T-born Richard Groden and their coach, another T&T-born Jamaal Shabazz lodged a complaint to FIFA about a possible ineligible player.
Both St Vincent and Guyana were locked in a court battle over St Vincent's latest recruit Gavin James's passport. Guyana claimed they had fielded an ineligible James in both of the games against them stating that he did not possess a Vincentian passport and only had a British one. However, after careful examination, FIFA ruled in-favour of St Vincent.
St Vincent meanwhile, continued where they had left off, in September 2015, they eliminated Aruba, also, on goal difference, they got one win (2-0) at home and a 2-1 lost in Aruba, going through on the away goal.
A couple months later, St Vincent dreams quickly turned into a nightmare as reality sunk in and they were awakened by some embarrassing results. In their opening fourth round qualification game they received a 6-1 hammering from group leaders USA in St Louis, Missouri. Then hosted Guatemala mere-days later and were again outclassed, falling 4-0 to the Los Chapines.
Trinidad and Tobago should have no problem getting past their Caribbean neighbours or, so it will seem. The Soca Warriors are a talented bunch and are coached by a T&T-born specialist, Stephen Hart. However, they must proceed with vigilance as they don't normally stand up well against teams that are similar as far as being physical is concerned, at least not all the time.
As mentioned above, Guyana had taught us that lesson when they eliminated T&T from the 2014 FIFA Word Cup. Jamaica did the same in the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals. Most recently and still fresh on the minds of the players, Haiti sent them packing when they won 1-0 in a play-off match in Panama for an historic place at the 2016 Copa América Centenario.
At the moment, St Vincent are like wounded soldiers and if allowed, they could put a spoke in T&T wheel. Given the fact that they lost both of their opening games and, by big margins they may have little to play for but pride, and if T&T is not careful, this could be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Both remaining matches for the Soca Warriors are against Guatemala at home and USA (away) and if T&T fails to seal wins against group minors St Vincent, it could very well end in an exaggerated and excessively dramatic fashion for a place in the final round.
At this level, no teams should be underestimated even if you are playing at home and Guatemala can surely turn things up against T&T, as we've seen in the past two meets between both nations. As, for the U.S, we all know the pseudonym they carry; CONCACAF-Giants, a title they've respectfully earned. So T&T must eschew from having to go down the road where they will need to get a positive result from their last two games especially the one against Americans.
St Vincent is coached by Cornelius Huggins, a player that has played in many countries including Trinidad and Tobago, so he knows all about T&T.
Their top-scorer and most capped player, Shandel Samuel, despite being 32, still packs a punch, another player that made his mark in the T&T leagues over the years. He is known however, for being undisciplined. Emerald George and Darren Hamlett adds the experience and support, they are the glue that help holds the team together.
Then you have strikers Cornelius Stewart (PS Kemi) and Myron Samuel (Seattle Sounders FC 2) who can do damage upfront, especially Stewart. The striker terrorized T&T defence the last time both teams met at the 2012 Caribbean Cup in a 1-1 tie at the Dwight Yorke Stadium. Myron Samuel were the goalscorer off a Stewart assist after he flicked the ball over Seon Power's head before Myron Samuel pounced on it with a firm shot that Jan-Michael Williams got a glove on but couldn’t keep out the ball from hitting his net.
Another player T&T will have to keep close eyes on is Tevin Slater. The Parham FC striker have been on fire since 2015, scoring in almost every matches he has played thus far.
Anchormen, Reginald Richardson of Oulun Palloseura FC and their captain Roy Richards help keeps things tight at the back.
Then of course the dangerous Oalex Anderson, who recently got promoted to Seattle Sounders FC first team, also the lone goalscorer against the U.S in their opener, a team that Caribbean countries find very difficult to score on. Anderson has scored 10 goals in 20 career appearances for his country. He was originally invited to Seattle a year ago by S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson, who is an assistant coach on the Vincentian national team.
They've beefed up their team by adding English-born striker Gavin James of Maidenhead United F.C. Not the biggest league to play in, but Ricky Shakes wasn't a big league player either, however, his assist and goal came back to haunt the Soca Warriors in Georgetown back in 2011.
T&T by no means are pushovers, they are unbeaten in the group and share a place on top of the table with USA with 4-points a-peace, only goals separate the pair.
The Soca Warriors were impressive in their opening match when they sneaked a 2-1 win over host Guatemala. They were then held goalless in Port of Spain to the U.S, a game T&T could have won easily. The Warriors didn't even look like they got off first gear, none-the-less, they held firm.
Captain T&T leads the way.
The team is led by its inspirational captain Kenwyne K-9 Jones, a man who has been in ripping form for his country, he leads with pride and prejudiced and takes no prisoners when it comes to leading his country. Guatemala calls him the “Black-Beast” In recent times, Mexico just shakes its head when they have the face the big man.
Kenwyne, is backed up by a number of great talents such as; Joevin Jones, Sheldon Bateau, Mekeil Williams, Aubrey David, Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud, a bunch of devoted players who intend on protecting and fighting for their captain and country.
With a growing list of injuries; Keron Cummings (injured), Radanfah Abu Bakr (injured), Cordell Cato (injured), Jan-Michael Williams (Injured), Gavin Hoyte (injured) and Kevan George (clubless). T&T still possessed enough in their arsenal to easily get by the Vincy Heat.
If T&T field the following two players from midfield it could be injurious for St Vincent. The return of Kevin Molino and Hughtun Hector will not only add value to the T&T line-up, but could be exhilarated by a sense of purpose. Then, you add T&T's latest secret weapon John Bostock to the mix and the Soca Warriors could be transformed into an indomitable unit. If it doesn't rain in Kingstown because of Bostock's ineligibility to represent T&T due to a small discrepancy, expect a few scattered showers when both teams meet-up in Port of Spain should he suit up, only time will tell.
Then you have a renewed and rejuvenated Sean de Silva and Shahdon Winchester along with T&T's brightest youth prospect Levi Garcia waiting on the wings if called upon, the thought of T&T's attack are just frightening. Without being too conceited, if the Soca Warriors play to their true potential, teams in CONCACAF will find it toilsome to overcome them.
But first, the Warriors needs to take care of St Vincent.
Trinidad and Tobago Squad
Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police FC).
Sheldon Bateau (FC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids—USA), Aubrey David (Deportivo Saprissa—Costa Rica), Justin Hoyte (Dagenham & Redbridge—England).
Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), * - John Bostock (OH Leuven—Belgium), Khaleem Hyland (KVC Westerlo—Belgium), Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery—USA), Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar—Netherlands), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—USA), Sean De Silva (Central FC), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—USA), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—USA), Jomal Williams (W Connection).
Kenwyne Jones - capt - (Al Jazira—UAE), Willis Plaza (Alianza—El Salvador), Shahdon Winchester (W Connection).
Head-to-head since 2000
Home team listed first.
SVG 2 v TRI 1 - Friendly (2000)
SVG 0 v TRI 2 - WCQ (2004)
TRI 2 v SVG 1 - WCQ (2004)
TRI 3 v SVG 1 - Digicel Cup (2005)
SVG 1 v TRI 0 - Digicel Cup (2005)
TRI 5 v SVG 0 - Friendly (2006)
TRI 6 v SVG 2 - Digicel Cup (2010)
TRI 1 v SVG 1 - Caribbean Cup (2012)
Kenwyne Jones looks ahead to tomorrow's World Cup Qualifier vs SVG at Arnos Vale
Hart speaks on eve of World Cup Qualifier vs St Vincent/Grenadines
The Day Before - Trinidad and Tobago vs St Vincent/Grenadines