T&T’s Under-17 footballers are one victory away from qualifying for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and will be hoping to achieve just that when they face off with hosts Panama in the quarterfinal of the Concacaf Final Round at the Estadio Agustín Muquita Sánchez in La Chorrera, Panama, on Saturday at 6 pm.
T&T finished second in Group B after Canada held Costa Rica 1-1 in Wednesday’s closing group contest which meant that Canada topped the group with four points, one more than T&T. Panama defeated Barbados 2-0 in the second match on Wednesday to book a spot in the “quarters” against T&T.
T&T, captained by midfielder Brendon Creed, will be up against it on Saturday as the Panama home fans have filled the Sanchez Stadium for all of Panama’s games and the team itself has proven to be a formidable opponent but the ‘junior Soca Warriors’ will still fancy their chances of securing a favourable result to push them through to the Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October.
T&T outplayed Canada in its opening game but ended up 0-2 losers before reversing the scoreline against Costa Rica through goals by midfielders Andre Fortune and Brent Sam, who received seven stitches after receiving a blow to the mouth against the Costa Ricans. He is, however, fit to take the pitch on Saturday.
TTFF technical director Anton Corneal said the team’s showing so far was praiseworthy but warned the players that they were yet to achieve their goal.
“Of course I’m elated to see the team reach to this point. They have worked hard but we haven’t qualified as yet. The actual qualifier is on Saturday against the host nation. We know they will not roll over but our guys are confident and very focused. They know we are ninety minutes away from a once in a lifetime achievement for them,” Corneal said after an early morning training session in Panama City.
“It’s a balanced team. They are solid in defense and they do well going from defence into attack. We are able to pin teams down for longer periods than we have before. There is a lot going for this team but on the day we have to play for the win and we have to make that very clear now. Nobody is going to give us anything and we must take that game and make it ours on Saturday (tomorrow),” added Corneal, who guided T&T to the 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in South Korea.
The T&T team is injury free except for a couple players carrying knocks. Defender Maurice Ford is out of Saturday’s qualifier on two yellow cards. There has been a group of about a dozen T&T fans—mostly guardians of the players—in Panama supporting from the stands. They will no doubt be hoping to keep the T&T flag proud on display during Saturday's decisive encounter.