Tue, Jun

FROM LEFT: Brent Sancho, the king' Russell Latapy & T&T assistant coach Anton CornealBrent Sancho's last appearance in Trinidad and Tobago's colours was a bittersweet experience. The "Soca Warriors" needed a win against Paraguay to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stage of the Germany 2006 World Cup in their final group match in Kaiserslautern.
But Sancho's first-half own goal set the South American team on the way for a 2-0 triumph, while a late cameo from veteran Russell Latapy provided the only spark for the eliminated Caribbean team.

Sancho, who was 29 at the time, performed creditably in Germany-not least in their opening draw against Sweden when he snuffed out the considerable threat of superstar striker Zlatan Ibramovic.

Just approaching his prime as a player, the future looked exciting and full of possibilities. Two years later, he must sometimes feel trapped in a bad dream.

Barring the injury-prone goalkeeper Kelvin Jack and retired custodian Shaka Hislop, Sancho is the only player used in Germany who has not represented his country since.

Professionally, he endured a long period outside the game too as he failed to find steady employment in Europe and eventually switched to the United States A' League earlier this year.

So, is Sancho a good player suffering a rough patch or an ordinary defender who eventually failed to deliver on his own hype?

The strapping dreadlocked defender is now on the books of Sangre Grande-based T&T Pro League team, North East Stars, but no one from the national coaching set-up turned up to see him play Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA on Thursday and it seems that his debut against St Ann's Rangers was also ignored.

His critics might argue that Sancho is no longer the player he was in Germany.

Yet, it still seems a surprising oversight on the part of head coach Francisco Maturana as the Warriors have managed just two clean sheets in seven 2010 World Cup qualifiers thus far.

Maturana is temporarily without injured central defender Keyeno Thomas while he could not have seen much of either Toronto's Julius James or Public's Seon Power-the latter has just returned from a broken leg.

In short, the national team does not seem to be in the position to snub defenders at the moment. The Sunday Express did attend Sancho's second outing against Caledonia, though. And it was not an unmitigated success for the former Trinity College and Malick schoolboy.

Four minutes from the end, the giant defender was played into trouble by the Stars goalkeeper on top his own penalty area.

Sancho's failure to immediately lump the ball out for a throw cost Stars dearly as the diminutive pair of Kendall Velox and Hayden Tinto quickly stripped him of possession and Tinto stroked home the game's only goal.

But the headline did not fairly encapsulate Sancho's output. Employed as a sweeper in a back three, Sancho directed his team's defensive line with authority and was in the right areas to challenge the ball when Caledonia attacked although there were no memorable tackles.

In attack, Sancho showed for the ball continually and helped Stars' five-man midfield to keep possession.

His passing was sure-a notable weakness in the present national defence apart from his World Cup partner, Dennis Lawrence-and he displayed nimble footwork when pressured.

The contest lacked meaningful thrust from either team and was a poor test of an international player.

Hopefully, there will be more answers when Stars meet the likes of CLICO San Juan Jabloteh and W. Connection. But, despite his role in Caledonia's winner, Sancho looked an influential figure for mostly the right reasons.

On the evidence of international recalls for the likes of Latapy and Arnold Dwarika, age is no longer a determining factor in team selection.

Sancho's own claims should be strengthened by December when he would be near to full fitness. A belated return from exile for Sancho might still be some distance away. But it looks less of a gamble these days.