By Fazeer Mohammed (T&T Express)
It's such a liberating thing to expect nothing.
Whether we're talking about the weakened West Indies cricket squad at the Champions Trophy in South Africa or the hopeful Trinidad and Tobago footballers at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup Finals in Egypt, the disengagement of emotion, passion and anxiety that the weight of expectation brings virtually ensures that stress levels will remain comfortably manageable in these two endeavours.
Indeed, with so many more pressing matters of national concern (crime, the economy, political gamesmanship) to deal with, being able to observe sporting competition involving our own at the very highest level without the usual stomach-churning, sweaty-palm routine is something I'm really looking forward to over the next nine days. Yes, nine days, for that's what I expect to be the extent of our involvement in both competitions.
Starting this morning in Johannesburg, members of the West Indies Cricket Board and their associated cronies who maintain a one-eyed, hopelessly unjustifiable position on the outclassed players trying their best to represent us, will get a greater appreciation of how low they have taken an institution that was once the envy of the sporting world.
True, you never know what to expect from Pakistan. Yet even the reigning World T20 champions' celebrated unpredictability is unlikely to see them fall at the feet of Floyd Reifer's men, especially after the Caribbean representatives were brushed aside by South Africa (188 runs) and Sri Lanka (five wickets) in the warm-ups to the real thing.
As for the remaining group matches against Australia on Saturday and India next Wednesday, both also at The Wanderers, well, the less said of our chances the better, simply because we have no realistic chance.
I can see the headlines already along the lines of "Carnage in the Bullring".
There's no such gloom and doom surrounding the under-20 footballers though. In fact, with the squad led by Leston Paul having the privilege of taking on the host nation in the tournament opener tomorrow afternoon at the 80,000-seater stadium in Alexandria, this will be a golden opportunity for our tiny nation to make a big impact, and on Republic Day to boot.
But will we?
Every perennial optimist, attention-seeking flag-waver or journalist trying desperately to curry favour with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation says "Yes we can!" with all the fervour of Barack Obama groupies. However, our history in global tournaments, and even the recent record leading up to the event, proclaims "No we won't!"
Look, I know this squad is probably our best prepared ever, certainly for a competition of this magnitude, seeing as how the majority of the selected players have been together for a number of years. Paul is one of 12 players who represented the country at the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea two years ago now forming the nucleus of our under-20 contingent.
So after all that time in harness, and assuming a greater level of maturity in the intervening period, it is reasonable to expect more cohesion and a higher quality of play than was evident in 2007, when the team returned home after the opening group phase having lost all three games to Ghana, Colombia and Germany by a combined scoreline of 14-1.
Still there's one important factor to keep in mind. Confidently expecting better results on the basis of the squad's inevitable improvement doesn't take into account the progress made by their opponents, and unless we're so utterly convinced that our local structure or the exposure that our players would have gotten over the years has pushed them ahead of some of the competition, we better save the festivities, assuming there will be any, until after the final whistle, either tomorrow afternoon against the Egyptians, next Monday against the Italians, or the following Thursday against the Paraguayans.
Me? I'm not venturing down the track like the diehard patriots. Yes, there's always the prospect of smashing an almighty six way out of the ground and stunning the sceptics. But someone with my cautious nature prefers to look at our overall record in four world football finals (two under-17, one under-20 and, of course, Germany 2006) in which we lost 11 of 12 games, scoring three goals and conceding 39.
With that in mind, I prefer to stay in my crease and avoid being stumped by half the length of the pitch, especially as I'm not convinced that we are as yet capable of coping with the challenges posed by nations much more seasoned in the business of world football.
If Shaka Hislop, the goalkeeping hero in that memorable goalless draw with Sweden in Germany more than three years ago, could paint such a gloomy picture of the local football landscape last week in the aftermath of the South Africa 2010 dream officially coming to an end, on what is any expectation of glory based?
Believing that the under-20s will lift us out of that gloom therefore assumes that they have skillfully avoid the pitfalls and inconsistencies inherent in the structure of the local game.
Don't get me wrong. I wish them well in their Egyptian adventure, just as I wish our West Indian cricketers well in their South African sojourn. Of course I support both sides. Who else should I back, Egypt and Pakistan, just because they happen to be predominantly Muslim nations?
In a country hamstrung by an increasing level of functional illiteracy, it's really no surprise that so many of us can't tell the difference between support and expectation.