It has been a struggle for the Trinidad and Tobago women’s Under-20 football team to get quality international warm-up matches ahead of the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championships, which will take place at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva from January 18-28.

But coach Jamaal Shabazz is remaining optimistic that his team will benefit from top-level opposition before the start of the eight-team tournament. The Championships also serves as a qualifier for three teams for the 2018 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France.

This month, the TT Under-20 team played two matches against the national women’s team (losing 2-0 on both occasions) as well as one against a Northern Football Association (NFA) Under-15 boys team, which also resulted in a 2-0 defeat.

Shabazz said yesterday, “Right now the TTFA (TT Football Association) is talking to people. We’re still hopeful.”

Also yesterday, TTFA president David John-Williams, in a brief interview, said, “We’re working on a lot of stuff but I can’t say anything (more as yet).”

TT have been placed with Haiti, Costa Rica and Canada in Group A, while Group B will feature the United States, Nicaragua, Mexico and Jamaica.

“Right now we’re looking at any national team active in Central America or South America,” Shabazz said. “It’s a little difficult to put together.”

However, the ex-T&T and Guyana men’s coach pointed out that, if those plans do not materialise, “We’ll play the senior women’s team twice again.”

Shabazz admitted that, with the exception of Haiti and Jamaica, “The other Caribbean teams (are) not really up to the level right now, and they’re inactive too. The only active Central American teams are Nicaragua and Costa Rica but in Nicaragua it’s an artificial ground. It’s no use going there to play on an artificial surface and coming back home to play on a grass field.”

Shabazz noted that it is also a struggle, from an economic standpoint, to arrange matches. He said, however, he will welcome playing an international friendly anywhere in the world.

“If we get a chance to play on the moon, we will play. The ideal would be to get somebody to come play here but it’s very difficult,” he said. “In women’s football, friendly matches are a luxury.”

Shabazz added, “The budget in the Associations are very tight. Often times, even in the days of plenty with (ex-TTFF Special Advisor) Jack Warner, we would have had to prioritise.

All the Associations in the region are faced with tight economic situation.

The veteran coach said neither he nor his team is moping as they are focused on preparing as best they could for the Championships.

“As much as we would like, the opportunities would not be there for a lot of friendly matches. But we’re not going to make it a problem. Currently the (TTFA) technical director Anton Corneal, myself and the staff have come up with this idea to make the senior team very competitive.

So far we’ve played them twice and we’ve not been able to get past them, so that in itself shows that their level is competitive.”

Originally published in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday