|Trinidad & Tobago||Mexico|
|Stern John (43')|
Stern John (69')
World Cup Qualifier
|2005-10-12||Hasely Crawford Stadium||Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago||23000|
T&T ride Mexican wave
|There were just 12 minutes left in Wednesday's CONCACAF World Cup
qualifier between Mexico and hosts Trinidad and Tobago when the local
fans began singing a sweet, familiar refrain.|
"T&T, we want a goal ".
The chant showed no trace of the desperation felt when chasing a result. It was closer to a taunt.
Trinidad and Tobago were as good as in the World Cup Playoff race and the fans knew it.
The final whistle, which confirmed a 2-1 win for T&T, did not spark scenes of celebration. The Hasely Crawford Stadium began celebrating from the moment Stern John rammed home their second goal in the 61st minute.
Referee Jose Fernandez's final gesture only meant that dancing, singing fans could now turn their attention from the field to each other. And, if most of the ladies present paid for their red outfits by the yard, Jimmy Aboud's fabric store did not make as much money as they may have hoped.
It was Carnival in October and the Hasely Crawford Stadium embodied the beauty, charisma and energy of Trinidad and Tobago.
Surely, it could not be prelude to a disaster. Not again.
After all, Trinidad and Tobago had only to beat the fifth-ranked team in the world-Mexico are 51 places higher than T&T in the FIFA ranking-to guarantee their place in the Playoffs.
Mexico, mind you, lost just twice in competitive meetings to T&T in a 40-year stretch. Suckeye.
Then came the game's first potential turning point.
Half-hour into the affair, John was dragged to the ground inside the Mexican penalty area and dusted himself off to take the resultant spot kick.
Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona got both hands to John's penalty kick and held on comfortably.
The misfortune should have been anyone's on the field but John. In recent months, the Derby County striker paid for Trinidad and Tobago's blunt presence in front the opposing goal, although it is coach Leo Beenhakker, not John, who opted for a conservative 4-5-1 system.
Now would John, who scored the decisive goal in Panama last weekend, stall on the road to perdition?
Frustrated supporters looked at each other and bit their tongue. It was as good as he could hope for. And did John ever repay their faith.
But it got worse before it got better.
Eight minutes after John's gaffe, Mexico took the lead with a sublime finish that seemed to laugh in the face of Trinidad and Tobago's qualifying hopes.
It is not just the technique and audacity of Mexican flanker Jaime Lozano to chip goalkeeper Kelvin Jack from inside the T&T penalty area, the ease with which Mexico engineered the chance or the timing of the goal that creased foreheads. It was a combination of the three.
Trinidad and Tobago had been outclassed.
And, sensing the despair of his beautiful people, the Lord-who occasionally does more than re-route hurricanes from Trinidad and Tobago's path-sent a redeeming angel.
Not charming playmaker Russell Latapy or the imperious captain Dwight Yorke, but rather CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh midfielder Aurtis "Otis Seaton" Whitley.
Whitley's mazy dribble and low spanking drive from 25 yards out ricocheted off the post before being turned in by a diving John.
Perhaps it was a bit much to empower the least of Beenhakker's apostles, as well as T&T's sacrificial lamb in one blur of movement, but there were no critics in red, white and black outfits.
For another twist, popular 36-year-old goalkeeper Shaka Hislop replaced the injured Jack at the resumption for his first appearance under Beenhakker and was quickly forced into a save.
But the glory lay further upfield and, despite plenty of neat one-twos by Yorke and Latapy, it was Whitley and John who most enjoyed the script.
Thirty minutes from time, they offered a crucial encore.
This time, Seaton's charge was blocked by an opponent but the Pro League player reacted quickly to flick the loose ball to John.
He might not the fleetest of foot but John knows better than to fool around at the dinner table.
One touch to turn and the other sent the ball screaming into the top left-hand corner. Corona was lucky just to see it.
Four minutes later, John almost grabbed a hat-trick with a dipping volley on the turn that would have held its own in the most privileged company in the game but for a successful response from the furiously backpedalling Corona.
By then, Mexico had accepted their role as 'also rans' in the show and Trinidad and Tobago fans were crowing.
"T&T, we want a goal!"
"Ole, ole, ole, ole!"
On the crest of a Mexican wave, Trinidad and Tobago cruised into a two-legged Playoff for a World Cup berth.
"Keep the faith," said Yorke, in the post-match interview. "We know we are heading in the right direction."
There was much to be said for the power of belief on Wednesday.
|46' Neil Hislop|
|24.||Cyd Gray 67 '|
|80' Densill Theobald|
|19.||Dwight Yorke (capt.)|
|46'||Neil Hislop for Kelvin Jack|
|80'||Densill Theobald for Aurtis Whitley|