Wed, Oct


ON FEBRUARY 9, 2005 T&T were beaten 2-1 against the United States at the Queen’s Park Oval on February 9, 2005 and then spanked 5-1 away to Guatemala on March 26, followed by a goalless draw against Costa Rica on March 30.

The whole conversation went from ‘Ron Atkinson being our new coach’ to ‘alright then, if you don’t want Ron, who will be our new coach’. A suggestion that Beenhakker came across the table by one of the players. That was the strange part. It was unfortunate for Mr St Clair that he was (fired) but the powers that be felt that we needed a change.

When you talk about somebody making instant changes, that’s Leo Beenhakker. He came in, set his stall out from early what he wanted, and he never flinched from that, from minute one to minute 90.

Things started to pick up, and then came the Mexico game (on October 12), to ensure T&T finished fourth in the group, how was that game like, from your perspective?

You’ll probably have to go back a little bit before that. I think the 3-2 game against Guatemala (at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on September 3), there was an unbelievable amount of belief in the changing room that we were going to qualify for the World Cup after that (match).

I had done two or three World Cup campaigns. It was the first time (for) me, being a part of a T&T team, that there was a genuine feel that we were going to qualify for a major tournament. It wasn’t just players trying to gee up themselves, it was a genuine belief. I think, from there on in, it didn’t matter who we played, we always felt that we would get a positive result. And the Mexico game showed that.

T&T defeated Mexico 2-1 at home to finish fourth in the group, behind the US, Mexico and Costa Rica. Then came the home-and-away leg against Bahrain (November 12 and 16). At home, Bahrain had scored first through Salman Ghuloom in the 72nd minute and Chris Birchall had equalised four minutes later. Then to Bahrain, where we had to win in order to move on to Germany. Memories of the Bahrain game…

Many times I have thought about this, but I felt if the fixtures were reversed, where we had to go to Bahrain first and then come to Trinidad, I think we would not have qualified. Simply, I felt the pressure that we had at home, I don’t think any player, exclusive of Dwight and (Russell) Latapy, would have felt the sort of pressure that we felt, to get a positive result. I don’t think they’ll felt that type pressure, where the entire nation felt that we were going to qualify, you had scores of people in the hotel.

It was non-stop pressure coming on us. Going into Bahrain, there was no pressure on us. The media wrote us off, the Bahrain people wrote us off. All we had was a bus ride full of Trinbagonians in white t-shirts who believed we would qualify. Even the atmosphere in the stadium in Bahrain was one that put (their) team under a lot of pressure.

The game was settled when Dennis Lawrence met a Yorke corner, in the 49th minute, and headed him the crucial goal which guaranteed T&T’s passage to Germany.

I think when they didn’t score in the first 15-20 minutes, you started to feel the fans in the stadium starting to turn on the team. I think that played an integral part in us getting a result because we didn’t feel the pressure that we felt at home. We more felt that if we executed the game plan that we had given to us, we would have gotten the desired result.

Now the focus was on organising the team to Germany. A few players, notably English-born striker Bobby Zamora was touted to be in the reckoning. However Beenhakker kept faith with most of the players who featured in the qualifiers, with only Germany-based winger Evans Wise the new addition (in place of the injured Silvio Spann). There were a few warm-up matches and a camp in Austria. Was the overall team chemistry a key factor in the overall selection of the team to play in Germany?

Beyond a doubt, (Beenhakker) felt the bunch that he took to Austria for the pre-tournament camp was the best knitted team, and I totally agree. It’s very rare that I feel part of a team that everybody did every activity together, on and off the pitch. If we were to go on an evening out, to get something to eat, everybody would go to the same restaurant.

In my career, I’ve never experienced something like that. It was very much a close-knit team, a family. Even if players had their differences, they were willing to put it aside for the greater good. It was a bunch of men that put their country first. It was 23 selfless individuals who felt that T&T was first. You’ve seen so many times where our country has tried to qualify or to win events where you may hear breakdowns in the team chemistry, but every single person was fighting for each other.

Even the three goalkeepers, they all supported each other. They all wanted each other to do well, they all wanted to see the team do well. And the players throughout, nobody bickered about who wasn’t playing, everybody wanted to see each other do well and they pushed each other accordingly. That was a real important thing, we stuck together.

It was an important ingredient for us. Going into the tournament, we got battered in a couple games and we felt we might have been out of our league a little bit. The coaching style of Leo Beenhakker, in putting things in perspective for us, helped a lot.

At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, T&T drew goalless with Sweden (June 10), but lost 2-0 to both England (June 15) and Paraguay (2-0) – Sancho would be infamously remembered in both defeats, having had his hair pulled by English striker Peter Crouch for the first goal while, against Paraguay, the defender scored an own goal.

However, what will Sancho remember from the three World Cup games?

The experience itself is obviously something that words can’t express. Being able to represent your country in the biggest stage is something that will always live with you. More importantly, as an athlete and a Trinbagonian, we felt that we left everything on the pitch. There are so many times as a player you would come off the field and you felt you could have (done) things differently.

I can boldly speak for all the players that we felt that, in all that we did in the three games, we left every emotion and every ounce of energy out on the pitch, for the cause. When we look back at it, it was truly a team effort. There were some very good individual performances, but it all went back to the fact that the team performed collectively well.

The only reason individuals were able to do well was because they were playing so well in the team structure. That’s the experience I took from it. Coming out from football into administration, if there is a team to be successful, they would have to carry those characteristics from the 2006 World Cup team.

Lastly, the aftermath. The blacklist between the players and the TTFF (T&T Football Federation) over a bonus pay dispute was well-documented. However, what will be his lasting memory of the Germany campaign? What will stick with him forever?

The memory that will stick out to me is the pride of being a Trinbagonian. I went to school in the States where every 4th of July they had flags and they show a level of pride. My roommates were Jamaicans and they were very proud of their country. As a Trinbagonian before the World Cup, I never felt that pride as a country.

The first time seeing the red, white and black in Germany, your heart swelled, you got goose-bumps. Even after Germany, you felt a certain level of pride when they talked about (T&T) and how they performed in the World Cup, when we got back to Piarco and the kind of reception that we got, the thousands of people that lined the roadway, that was at the airport, that came to the (Hasely Crawford) Stadium, it shows you what we can do as a nation if we stick together and put country first.

SOURCE: T&T Newsday