Tue, Feb

FORMER Defence Force and national footballers Hutson "Barber" Charles, Kerry Jamerson and Ross Russell are all confident that Trinidad and Tobago can reach the FIFA World Cup Finals for the first time.

The Warriors are in a home-and-away tie with Bahrain on November 12 and 16 for a berth in Germany next year.The aggregate winner of the two matches will join 31 other national teams.

Charles said the team "improved immensely since the arrival of coach (Leo) Beenhakker," was also high in praise of former Strike Squad teammates Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy, who returned to the squad at varying times of the year.

"I think their roles on the team are great because of the experience that they bring with them. I think the national team needed that sort of experience," said the former midfielder. "You can tell because, of the performance of the team, they’re making a great input."

Charles, who has worked as a coach with Defence Force as well as the national Under-15 and Under-17 teams, is looking at one key element for the home match on November 12.

"For our home match, I think putting the ball in the back of the net," said Charles, "because we create a lot of chances and, if we put the ball in the back of the net, when we get our chances, we’re going to be in a nice position to qualify for Germany."

The soft-spoken Charles is also hoping that the present team can go one step further than the Strike Squad, and book a spot in the World Cup.

Looking back at TT’s 1-0 loss to the United States on November 19 1989, Charles stated: "Now that we have two members from that November 19 team on this present team, I think qualifying for Germany will bring a sense of satisfaction for the members who (were) on the 1989 team."

Like Charles, Jamerson has had a distinguished career both at school and national level, and he is also keeping a close eye on what is taking place with the national team.

"I think the national team started to take a nice turn after the first couple of matches in the (CONCACAF Final Round qualifiers)," the current Defence Force tactician noted.

"What I saw is that the players are more serious, more dedicated right now and I think the coach have them right now in a good position for us to qualify," Jamerson added.

Jamerson, who earned a reputation as a specialist defensive midfielder, is also pleased with the change in mentality with the national defenders.

"The defenders are playing with the ball now," Jamerson said, "they’re not just taking up the ball and kicking it up the road. They’re playing and they’re building (attacks) and that’s the most important part," he continued.

"Once the defenders can take and build with the midfield, and they can connect together, I think that’s the better part of (our) football now," Jamerson.

Another survivor from the November 19, 1989 contest, Jamerson is counting on this squad to finally earn a place in the quadrennial tournament.

"I think they have a great chance of reaching the World Cup," he asserted. "I wouldn’t say that Bahrain is not a good team but I think we’re on top of them in the world (ranking) right now. "If we decide to go at them with that sort of confidence, and the ability to play hard, I think we would end up in the World Cup," he added.

Russell is also pleased with what he has seen with the Trinidad and Tobago team, since the appointment of Beenhakker to replace the ousted Bertille St Clair in April.

"I think the team has turned around to something that is good," said the ex-TT goalkeeper. "I think they’ve been playing with more heart (and) more passion for the game. Right now, the team seems to be more focused on the task ahead," he added.

Focusing his attention on the midfield, Russell stated: "I think Latapy has helped tremendously and (Chris Birchall) works his heart out as a typical English-brand player.

"He gives support to our midfield but Latapy, especially, has added a little more spice to the attack and a little more respect to the football," continued Russell.

"From the opponents just coming at us, they have to think of Latapy, they have to think of Yorke, they have to think of Stern (John), and they have to think about Birchall. But, all and all, I think we have a good group of guys and I think we’ll do well in the next game," he ended.