Thu, Dec


The mood in the Trinidad and Tobago national football team dressing room at Easter Road, Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon was gloomy.

An unlikely figure was trying to spread some joy, though.

Blackburn Rovers striker Dwight Yorke and the most successful export in the history of the Trinidad and Tobago game had flown to Scotland to lend his support.

And, as the Caribbean outfit slunk back to their dressing room following a humbling 4-1 defeat to Scotland, Yorke-who retired from international duty three years ago-and veteran England-based midfielder Clint Marcelle, who was the youngest-ever T&T debutante at 16, joined them with comforting words. There were three words that Yorke almost certainly did not utter.

"Count me in."

It would be overly dramatic to call Sunday's friendly a dark blot on the local game.

A victory, for instance, would not have counted towards T&T's points tally when the more serious business of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off.

Yet, it was a worrying indication of the fraility of the current squad.

Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) technical director Lincoln "Tiger" Phillip explained last week that the friendly would give the coaching staff an idea of the team's readiness.

He had much to thank Scotland manager Berti Vogts for.

A four-goal burst within the opening 35 minutes exposed the defensive naivety of coach Bertille St Clair's five-man midfield and the lack of battling qualities within his ranks, which had the Scottish media heaping scorn on their opponents' claim to be "Soca Warriors".

Twenty-year-old Manchester United rising star Darren Fletcher gave an awesome display of pivots and probing passes, while left sided 21-year-old Everton attacker James McFadden tormented with his close control and speed.

Behind them, firm shoulder challenges and flying elbows bullied their guests into submission.

The outcome was already settled before St Clair's troops stood up collectively after the interval and concocted a fine consolation item from Birmingham City striker Stern John.

The British press-one columnist surmised that T&T would certainly not number among the 2006 World Cup qualifiers-were right about one thing: Scotland do not possess a world class team.

Honduran playmaker Amado Guevara, for one, will be as adept as Fletcher in spotting his opponent's weaknesses.

And CONCACAF strikers with the quality of Costa Rican Winston Parks will exploit them. Teams like Jamaica and Mexico are as capable at strong arm tactics as anyone.

Trinidad and Tobago got a ruthless lesson in their susceptibility on Sunday from one of Britian's most feeble nations.

Harrassed China-based playmaker Arnold Dwarika frequently beseeched Dutch match official Peter Vink as though he were a jilted lover.

Team captain Angus Eve, teenaged utility player Kenwyne Jones and wingback Stokely Mason struggled with either the pace or physical nature of the game. It is too soon to write epitaphs or search for scapegoats.

The lack of a midfield bodyguard, or two, to balance an attack-minded line-up requires immediate attention and St Clair noted as much.

But, collectively, the team played badly.

They were too slow in stepping to the opponent in possession or in following their assigned player.

And going forward, they lacked the patience to construct an attack or an appreciation for the horizontal balls, which would allow their wing backs to take up offensive positions.

Too often, they rushed to find John with ill-advised passes that opened them up to counter-attacks.

St Clair needs someone who can pull off an adequate impression of retired captain and midfield star, David Nakhid.

CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh's Kerwyn "Hardest" Jemmott has been unreliable at international level but could prove the best option if he regains full fitness.

He would be hard-pressed by 19-year-old Peterborough central midfielder Andre Boucaud, who showed character and nippy feet against Scotland.

Bristol City midfielder Anthony Rougier, who missed out due to club commitments, should also strengthen the midfield area.

St Clair may then choose between an attacking midfielder from the pair of Dwarika and Eve or a natural ball winner like Jabloteh's Travis Mulraine according to the circumstances.

There is still time for Jones, Dinamo Zagreb-bound Silvio Spann and Arima Morvant Fire midfielder Denzil Theobold to force their way into contention, although there is unlikely to be much experimenting in the near future.

Carlos Edwards also shone on Sunday and is a certainty on the right flank, although left wing back Marlon Rojas served notice of intent to Mason with a lively late cameo.

The overworked three-man defence of Ian Cox, Brent Sancho and Marvin Andrews will remain despite Sunday's crushing defeat, while St Clair is spoiled for choice between reliable Portsmouth custodian Shaka Hislop, who is recovering from an arduous season, and talented Crewe Alexandra goalie Clayton Ince.

Reading's Kelvin Jack and Vibe CT 105 W Connection's Jan-Michael Williams have also shown some aptitude at this level between the uprights. The forward line is the least of St Clair's worries.

Not when John is hitting the target with the precision of legendary archer William Tell and a host of talented players like Cornell Glenn, Jerren Nixon, Jason Scotland, Nigel Pierre and Dwarika are queing up for a supporting role.

Yorke's career has dipped significantly since his unceremonious move from Manchester United.

Yet, the talented frontman-the sixth most prolific striker in the history of the English Premier League-can strengthen any team.

St Clairs knows it and he will continue to woo the talent he unearthed at his Tobago Coaching School, two decades ago.

But there was nothing in their defeat to Scotland to suggest that Yorke could be their saviour.

At present, the self-proclaimed Soca Warriors are too far short of being a potential World Cup candidate to bridge the gap with one striker-no matter how talented he may be.

What Scotland "Man of the Match" Darren Fletcher said:
"I got a little of a free role for Scotland today when usually at club level I play right of centre and I'm up and down the pitch... Perhaps Trinidad and Tobago didn't expect it. "Maybe they thought it would be an easy game. But we got right at them and played the one - and two-touch football we'd practised in training all week, he ended."

The building process will take time and Trinidad and Tobago fans would hope to see a step in the right direction on Sunday at, ironically, the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet against a Northern Ireland team which was held 1-1 by Barbados last weekend. The Warriors must waste no time in proving that they are up for the battle.