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Mon, Oct

T&T aim to break November-duck as 2018 WCQ's kicks-off. (Photo: TTFA Media).
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T&T's mission to Moscow begins.

As Trinidad and Tobago get ready to set foot in the Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City for it's opening 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying clash from 7:00pm, one thing will certainly be on their minds, and that's nothing more than a favourable result, preferably a victory.

However, if history repeats itself, T&T could be in for a surprise if they are not prudent about the challenge that lies ahead. Yes, they did crucify the Central Americans the last time they met, but this time more is at stake. A place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia, the biggest show on earth.

Dating back to 1968 T&T haven't had much success against the Central Americans when it came to World Cup matches in that country. In fact, T&T previously suffered 2 humiliating defeats in Guatemala, a 4-0 lost in 1968 and a 5-1 drumming in 2005. Overall, since 1968 both teams have met in 11 World Cup matches with T&T having the slightest of edges; winning 4, drawing 4 and recording 3 losses.

In 2005, it turned out to be one of T&T most memorable matches against the Los Chapines. It was September 3rd, a hot afternoon in T&T, fans were singing, the music was pumping and the atmosphere was buzzing. The stadium was decked out in red and packed to capacity. Team Guatemala was silently planning an assassination that they almost accomplished.

It took midfielder Guillermo Ramirez just 3 minutes to get the Spanish-speakers off the mark which left T&T players scratching their heads in disbelief. It was former Minister of Sports and T&T defender Brent Sancho who took down Guatemala’s play-maker Gonzalo Romero just in front of the T&T area. Guillermo Ramirez took the resulting free-kick and his well struck shot took a deflection before whizzing past Kelvin Jack in goal.

Guatemala held on to the 1-0 lead until half-time and must have felt they had this cat in the bag. But then, a magician showed up, at 37, Russell Latapy came to the rescue when he made a dazzling run down the right, blew pass 2, okay, 3 defenders and unleashed a well placed left-footed strike under Miguel Klee’s out stretched arms to give T&T the equaliser in minute 48th, from there, it was game on.

Guillermo Ramirez would strike again in the 61st minute, this time it silenced the crowd but only for a moment as they were screaming and literally abusing Stern John for a few missed opportunities earlier in the game. The super-star striker didn't let the abuse get to him and kept a clam head. And with 5 minutes of regulation time left on the clock, T&T World Cup dreams seemed like it was about to come crashing down. The Warriors were trailing 2-1 when Stern John came up gigantic with a deuce a minute apart (84 & 85 minute respectively) that stunned his critics and sealed a 3-2 victory for his country. The Guatemalans were left shell-shocked, while T&T virtually had their eyes set on Germany with only Mexico and Bahrain standing in their way. The rest was history, T&T went on to defeat both and claimed it's first ever World Cup berth in 2006 (Germany, here come's the Soca Warriors).

What's also interesting is- both teams met 4 years later for the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification third round with T&T again pipping the Guatemalans to claim 2nd spot in Group 1 alongside USA (who were also in the same group) to eventually move on-to the final Hexagonal stage.

Last time the Soca Warriors met the Los Chapines was an intriguing encounter. It was at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, a game in which T&T literally bullied the Central Americans over with their physical strength, canniness and speed that left them grasping for air. Most of the damage was done in the first-half, and by the time the second half came around T&T had taken their feet off the gas and the Central Americans almost rallied back. They showed fight and piled repeated attacks on T&T’s goal, but the Warriors defenders were not to be reckoned with and held on to seal the nerve-wracking, but deserving 3-1 victory.

Guatemala talent pool drying, but close eyes on dynamic-trio.

Currently, Guatemala doesn't have a big talent pool of players coming through their team like they did in the past when they were blessed with some top players, including Guillermo Ramírez, Gustavo Cabrera, Fredy Thompson, Juan Carlos Plata, Gonzalo Romero, Dwight Pezzarossi, Oscar Sánchez, Freddy García and of course the magnificent Edgar Estrada between the sticks.

Today, Guatemala's inspirational captain, the evergreen trickster Carlos “The Little Fish” Ruiz has been their main man in attack. At age 36, the slippery striker still packs a punch, in fact, his country's only goal at the 2015 Gold Cup came against T&T and the former Los Angeles Galaxy man could have had 3 on that night. His powerfully clinical strike against T&T almost ripped the back of the net. Ruiz, who has netted a remarkable 30 goals in 37 all-time World Cup qualifiers and has eight goals for Municipal this season in all competitions.

Ruiz’s ruthlessness is quickly followed by talented 27-year old midfielder Marco Papa, who is capable of playing anywhere is midfield and can score from there as well. Papa, who had stints with Municipal, Dutch club SC Heerenveen and Chicago Fire where he was most successful, scoring 21 from 76 games, can turn it up at any given time.

Alejandro Galindo is another player who can turn the tides in a blink of an eye. Born in Guatemala from a Guatemalan father and Colombian mother. Galindo, lived most of his childhood days in Colombia and holds Colombian citizenship. He is their main playmaker the Warriors will have to mark closely.

Guatemala's Technical Director Ivan Sopegno told Guatefutbol: “We have more knowledge of T&T now, they've grown a lot since the Gold Cup, but we also have our own growth, we will now look at who is better able to face them.”

“I know more or less how they attack, we have also seen them at least in the last five games.”

“We have to win, play well or badly, but we have to try to win, not here but everywhere, to go to the World Cup you have to beat everyone,” said the Argentine.

Meanwhile, Fredy Thompson (hamstring tear), Edgar Chinchilla (jaw injury) and Jose Manuel Contreras (knee injury) are all carrying small knocks but is expected to suit up for the Central Americans come game day.

Guatemala, got to the semi-final round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers by eliminating T&T's nemesis Bermuda on a 1-0 aggregate, tying them at home (0-0) and then finishing the job in Bermuda (1-0). They also eliminated Antigua and Barbuda on a 2-1 aggregate.

Up next it's Uncle Sam's Army

Only four days after it's opener in Guatemala City, the Soca Warriors will rush back to Port of Spain where they have a date with the mighty Americans at the Hasley Crawford Stadium.

Though, it brought the country together in perfect harmony, November 19th, 1989 was a November never to be forgotten for the die-hards of T&T football, and if you google tag ‘November 19, Strike Squad & USA’, it would reveal one of T&T's darkest moments in its footballing history, however, there is no need to rekindle that painful memory. Maybe November 16th 2005 would be more memorable for the faint of heart.

T&T has met USA 14 times since 1985 at World Cup level and has only defeated them once, yes, that's right, just once. The Warriors managed 2 draws and have lost 11 times to the Yanks. The U.S. has played 6 matches in Port of Spain, losing just once to T&T.

T&T's solitary victory over the Americans came in 2008 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Dynamic duo Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke were on target in the 60th and 79th (penalty) minute respectively that propelled T&T to a 2-1 victory over the U.S., that were obliviously missing a few regulars. None-the-less, Francisco Maturana's men made history alongside Russell “Little Magician” Latapy whom, at the time became the oldest player at 40, to have scored in a World Cup qualifier. Latapy was also the assistant coach at the time.

Current T&T players Khaleem Hyland and Marvin Phillip are the only two remaining members that were part of that T&T side and despite Kenwyne Jones being a member as well, the current T&T captain was not considered for the match due to injury.

A year later, both teams met again and this time the Little Magician was in a different role, he was fresh on the job as the T&T head coach but bowed out to a full-strength U.S. team 1-0 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Ricardo Clark, whose father hails from T&T was the difference for the Stars and Strips that night. It turned out to be Clark’s first career FIFA World Cup qualifying goal. Star players, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore were all part of the U.S. line-up.

Players biting, but no catch.

There are few foreign players who have shown interest in playing for T&T but with a mixture of poor players' management and a lack of funding has cold all interest. Nick DeLeon, Ryan Inniss, John Bostock, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sheanon Williams are all eligible to play for the Panmen. With T&T's glittering display on the international game, the players are still reluctant on joining Hart's team or, at least for now.

Did you know US-Born midfielder Ricardo Clark and UK-born winger Ricky Shakes have something in common? They both were eligible to represent T&T. Clark was never pursued and Shakes’ pleas to join the Warriors went a-begging. In a twist of faith Shakes scored against the Red, White and Black and sent them packing out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers; and brought acclaim to his newly adopted country Guyana with its first ever victory over T&T at this level.

Despite the ups and downs they've had to endure off the field, T&T have been on the incline for the past two years. One might not be able to pinpoint exactly when the transition began, but one thing that’s certain is that the Soca Warriors are a rejuvenated bunch with a desire to take it to the end. The man behind their success though is non other than Trinidadian-born and former Canadian head coach, Stephen Hart. The coached has injected discipline, purpose, structure and resilience in T&T’s brand, and the players seem to want to play for him. This has been a welcoming sight to the die-hard fans who have supported team T&T throughout its phases.

Though not the finished article, the T&T team is by no means a pushover and is very capable of getting positive results from its opening two games. The team is led by its inspirational captain Kenwyne “K-9” Jones or the “Black Beast” at least, that's how they describe him in Guatemala, are playing some of the best football we've seen from him since coach Hart took over as head coach. One notable moment of brilliance from the T&T skipper was the phenomenal 20 yard strike he scored in a recent friendly against Panama, where T&T came away with a 2-1 victory in Panama City.

Andre Boucaud, Khaleem Hyland, Jonathan Glenn, Kevan George, Cordell Cato, Joevin Jones and of course the cunning and elusive Keron Cummings have been a sight to behold in T&T colours and if they all show up on game day, teams will find it impossible to stop them.

Since coming on-board, Stephen Hart has had to go into every single tournament with little preparatory games and yet he and his staff manages to get the best out of every situation as his team surpassed many expectations. This time around however, Hart was put into a much better situation as he has had his team together for more games dating back to June where the Soca Warriors played 9-games including the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, he is still haunted by some back-room discrepancies that needs to be ironed-out, hence the reason Hart has refused to sign a renewed contract and is working on a month-to-month basis.

Rally to Russia, a long but worthy journey for Hart's men.

Soca Warriors On-line (SWO) questioned Hart about his World Cup (WC) approach and the rocky road he had to endure in the past 2-years.

Stephen Hart: “Concerning a WC campaign the programming towards WC 2018 has been very inconsistent and lacked a properly prepared detailed path. Quite frankly, it’s been difficult for all involved (this is common knowledge). The players and staff have shown tremendous commitment and resilience. We are also aware that the WC qualifying is where the demands and expectations of the Trinidad and Tobago public are at a premium. We have to be at our best in all areas of our game.”

“The fact remains that I was hired to get T&T to the WC 2018, so that is the focus. One can only work with what is presented, that will never stop me from indicating clearly what is actually required, regardless of if people like it, or not. That being said, it’s high time that TT Football (fraternity) sits down and plan a proper path towards not only WCQ, but all elements of National team football. As some of our most respected players have indicated, we should start right now with an aim for 2022. This requires all stake holders, the TTFA, the Senior Leagues, Youth football and the Ministry of Sport to have a common (agreed upon) VISION, that is measurable, with a will to move the sport forward, with aims and objectives towards progressive consistency & continuity.”

When asked about Guatemala’s good home record against T&T and USA being a CONCACAF giant that has overpowered the Warriors almost flawlessly. Hart’s response was as follows-

“Yes, I have seen Guatemala since the T&T (Gold Cup) game twice, they are definitely very comfortable at home. Their record speaks for itself and it takes a very strong refereeing team to control the situation.  How I will approach the game, let’s not discuss that for obvious reasons. But it is important for our players not to show any fear in how we play. Marco Pappa, Carlos Ruiz and Alejandro Galindo are all very crafty players that can change a game with one pass, Ruiz in particular gets under the skin of players and has a nasty streak; He will do anything to win. We need to steal points on the road, but we must never panic regardless of the situation we are in.”

“You are also quite right about USA, but a statistic is only a statistic. The U.S. has shown they have matured with their WCQ Record. However, we are at home and we must continue to control those aspects of the game that we are in control off. Though we have grown as a team, we still have a tendency to make crucial errors of concentration that cost us goals. In our last four games we scored 10 and gifted the opposition 7. It’s an experience that we must learn from. Clint Dempsey (wasn't called) and Michael Bradley make this team tick, but the key ingredient to their success in CONCACAF is Tim Howard, he is truly a top class goalkeeper at a world standard and USA play far more confidently when he is between the sticks.”

Quizzed about his T&T future and of any possible new players, Hart replied: “We will see on the potential players, non have openly committed, though they have expressed an interest. It's a work in progress.”

“To date, I have not signed any contract, but talks have been favourable, added the La Romain born coach.”

By the time T&T meets USA, they will be 9-days away from celebrating their Thanksgiving holiday and if all goes according to plan, Uncle Sam's Army could have their holiday turkey dinner ruin and possibly cost their under-pressure head coach Jürgen Klinsmann his job. The U.S. have been dealt with a string of bad results in its build-up towards the series. In-addition, they've dropped one of the biggest star-player Clint Dempsey. The decision to drop Dempsey stems from a desire to look at other options up front, according to Klinsmann.

In the meantime, T&T has met USA 4 times in the month of November in World Cup Qualifying and has never beaten them. Now with Stephen Hart at the helm and a potent strike force, T&T could be set to break the November duck and nothing would make it sweeter, than to beat the Yanks in a game at home that really matters.

Good luck T&T from the Soca Warriors Online.

Trinidad & Tobago Squad

Goalkeepers

Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC/Trinidad), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United/Trinidad).

Defenders

Sheldon Bateau (FC Krylia Samara/Russia), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge/Denmark), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land FC/South Korea), Justin Hoyte (Dagenham & Redbridge/England), Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire/USA), Aubrey David (FC Shakhter Karagandy/Kazakshtan), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC/Mexico), Mekeil Wiliams (Antigua FC/Guatemala).

Midfielders

Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge/England), Keron Cummings (North East Stars), Kevan George (Columbus Crew/USA), Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars/Trinidad), Khaleem Hyland (KVC Westerlo/Belgium), Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire/USA), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava/Slovakia), Trevin Caesar (Austin Aztex/USA), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes/USA).

Forwards 

Jonathan Glenn (Breidablik Kopavogur/Iceland), Kenwyne Jones (capt) (Cardiff City/Wales), Willis Plaza (Central FC/Trinidad).

Coach - Stephen Hart.

Guatemala Squad

Goalkeepers

Ricardo Perez (Alianza Petrolera/Colombia), Victor Ayala (ACSD Antigua GFC/Guatemala), Paulo Cesar Motta (CSD Municipal/Guatemala).

Defenders

Elias Vasquez (Real Salt Lake/USA), Denis Lopez (CSD Municipal/Guatemala), Hamilton Lopez (Club Xelajú MC/Guatemala), Jose Pinto (ACSD Antigua GFC/Guatemala), Carlos Gallardo (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala).

Midfielders

Moises Hernandez (Dallas FC/USA), Fredy Thompson (ACSD Antigua GFC/Guatemala), Aslinn Rodas (Club Xelajú MC/Guatemala), Stefano Cincotta (Chemnitzer FC/Germany), Kendel Herrarte (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala), Jean Marquez (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala), Jorge Aparicio (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala), Carlos Mejia (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala), Marco Pablo Papa (Seattle Sounders/USA), Jose Manuel Contreras (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala), Brandon De Leon (CSD Comunicaciones/Guatemala).

Forwards

Minor Lopez (Atlético CP/Portugal), Henry Lopez (CSD Municipal/Guatemala), Greson Tinoco (CSD Cobán Imperial/Guatemala), Carlos Ruiz (capt) (CSD Municipal/Guatemala).

Coach - Ivan Franco Sopegno (Argentina).

USA Squad

Goalkeepers

Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Bill Hamid (D.C. United/USA), Tim Howard (Everton/England).

Defenders

Ventura Alvarado (Club America/Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City/USA), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach/Germany), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls/USA), Michael Orozco (Tijuana/Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham/England), Brek Shea (Orlando City/USA).

Midfielders

Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake/USA), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/Canada), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC/USA), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution/USA), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers/USA), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland/England), Miguel Ibarra (Leon/Mexico).

Forwards

Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/Canada), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy/USA), Jordan Morris (Stanford University/USA), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin/Germany), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy/USA).

Coach - Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany).

Trinidad and Tobago Upcoming Matches
(home teams mentioned first)

November 13, 2015
Guatemala vs Trinidad and Tobago

November 17, 2015
Trinidad and Tobago vs United States

March 25, 2016
St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs Trinidad and Tobago

March 29, 2016
Trinidad and Tobago vs St. Vincent and the Grenadines

September 2, 2016
Trinidad and Tobago vs Guatemala

September 6, 2016
United States vs Trinidad and Tobago


Copyrights of the Soca Warriors Online - Any press using the following article written by Inshan Mohammed are welcome to do so providing they reveal the source and writer. Furthermore, no portion of this article may be copied without proper credit as well.