Tue, Jun

Trinidad and Tobago's goalkeeper Shaka Hislop throws the ball during the 2006 World Cup group B football game Trinidad and Tobago vs. Sweden, 10 June 2006 at Dortmund stadium. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Trinidad and Tobago’s lone appearance at a FIFA World Cup™ came at Germany 2006 when the Caribbean nation captured the imagination of neutrals in going toe-to-toe with European powers Sweden and England.

At the centre of it all was goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, a late injury replacement for the team’s opener against a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led Sweden, who dazzled in goal to secure a point in his country’s first ever World Cup match.

Now, 18 years later, Hislop works as a pundit for ESPN, appearing across the company’s signature football studio show, ESPN FC, and other programming. He still keeps close tabs on football in Trinidad and Tobago and the current state of the national team, which begins qualifying on 5 June against Grenada.

Hislop spoke to FIFA about Trinidad and Tobago’s upcoming qualifying campaign, along with some cherished memories from Germany 2006.

FIFA: How are you feeling about Trinidad and Tobago going into qualifying?

Shaka Hislop: I feel as though we are getting there, and with our games against Grenada and Bahamas, we should get through those comfortably. When I say comfortably, I mean we should win those. Whether we are in a position to be beating some of the smaller Caribbean countries by four or five, as was once the expectation, I’m not sure, but I think we should win those.

What’s your assessment of the team's progress under coach Angus Eve?

I’ll put it as a work in progress. We have always been drawn to more attacking, more flair-oriented football and this team has been fairly pragmatic. That being said, my own experience in football says that if you want to build a winning team, you start with the defence, so that maybe plays into Angus’ plan and what we hope is a successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Which current players stand out to you?

The young goalkeeper that we have, Denzil Smith, I think he’s simply outstanding. I’ve seen him play five games and I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with everything that I see from him. I think he’s an incredible talent. Without question he’s the brightest we’ve seen at that position in the last 15 years, so we have the makings of a good team with a solid defensive set that we can build from.

Would you like to see Trinidad and Tobago include heritage players?

While FIFA recognises people with grandparents who are citizens of countries as being eligible to play for that country, in local terms, unless you have a parent born in Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t qualify. That puts us behind the 8-ball in terms of at least another generation of players being eligible where maybe we could find some of that attacking talent we need. But I think there is a bigger picture to this. I think having the wider diaspora be recognised as full Trinidad and Tobago citizens has a greater knock-on effect than just sport. I think it can prove a boost to the economy in terms of people coming back and buying property, setting up businesses or investing in Trinidad and Tobago without some of those red tape hurdles that they now have to navigate.

Let’s talk a walk down memory lane. When I mention Germany 2006, what immediately comes to mind?

Just the mention of it gives me goosebumps. I played 15 years of professional football, 10 of those in the Premier League, and the summer of 2006 was easily the highlight of my career. As careers go and as things happen, there is no better way for me to walk away from the game than at that level.

10 June 2006, World Cup opener against Sweden. Kelvin Jack was slotted to start as goalkeeper, but then what happened?

I knew Kelvin was carrying an injury, but I thought he’d be able to make it. As Kelvin is warming up, he walks by me and says something and I thought he said he couldn’t make it, but I wasn’t 100-per-cent sure what he said. I focused on him as he walked up to [head coach] Leo Beenhakker. I’m about 20-25 yards away, so I’m not sure what was being said, they have a short exchange and then Leo looks at me and calls me over and asks, 'Are you ready?' and I say, 'Yeah, I’m ready for this.'

Do you ever go back and watch that Sweden game?

There isn’t a lot about the game that I remember and I avoid the highlights as much as I can… I’ve never watched the match all the way through. I’ve maybe seen bits. World Cup 2006 is still my fairy tale. I feel like if I go back and watch it all over again, all of the sudden it becomes real, and I kind of like it as a fairy tale.

You nearly got a similar result against England. What’s your recollection of that contest?

We nearly got it. It was a David Beckham cross deep into the far post and Peter Crouch got up over Brent Sancho. The way he towered over Brent, I knew something wasn’t right. Brent had competed with him all day long. He clearly has a height advantage over Brent, but Brent was really clever in how he played Peter and then all of the sudden Peter beat him easily, and so something wasn’t right…. If only we had VAR back then! (laughs) For all the people who don’t like VAR, I wish we had it in 2006. Maybe we would be telling a different story.

What would Trinidad and Tobago qualifying for the World Cup mean to you?

I would be able to go to my footballing heaven a happy man. I experienced it as a player and it was a fairy tale, it was surreal, it was every adjective you care to throw at it, but I want to go back as a fan. I last put on the colours in June 2006 and have remained a fan ever since. I would love to go experience the fan zones, mingle with fans from other countries and be able to talk about Trinidad and Tobago in the way that I see it and with the pride that I feel about home.