T&T’s Soca Warriors will be looking to capture maximum three points in their opening match of the Russia 2018 World Cup qualification when they face off with hosts Guatemala at the Estadio Mateo Flores from 7.06 pm (9.06 pm T&T time) tonight.
The T&T team arrived in Guatemala City just around 3 pm local time on Wednesday and were greeted by a barrage of Guatemala media outside the La Aurora international airport.
Stephen Hart conducted a light session at around 6 pm at a nearby artificial surface pitch which was the only one made available to the visitors with lights. And the temperature dropped to 20 degrees Celsius the evening progressed.
Hart, however, did manage to oversee a more impactful session yesterday morning on a natural grass surface before putting his team through a short session at the match venue in the evening period. “We landed here and it’s been a bit of a hike to get to the training facilities but they were decent. The main thing now is to keep our minds focused on the game and not let little things affect us,” Hart said.
Hart said he held an important discussion with the players and told them that everything they did at the Gold Cup and in the past was no longer relevant. “This is a brand new Guatemala, this is a brand new scenario and I just put them in that frame of mind,” Hart added.
Skipper Kenwyne Jones has been a big talking point in the Guatemalan press, with several queries from them about whether he is fit to play. The Cardiff City forward said he’s feeling fine and ready to lead his team. “Things are running smoothly. We are trying to iron out the final bits before we go into the game. We had two great sessions and just trying to get a feel for over here,“ Jones said.
“This is a totally different competition. It’s not going to be easy for us here in Guatemala. We know what to expect when we come to these Central American countries and they are going to have that twelfth man surely rooting for them. And they are going to come hard at us seeing that we beat them in the Gold Cup.
“It’s a bit more technical and tactical for us especially when we come away from home. We are going to try to do the things we plan to and try to come away with the three points.
“I feel great at the moment. The players are all training very hard and keeping each other on their toes,” Jones added.
Defender Radanfah Abu Bakr is also keen ahead of the encounter. “I’m looking forward to it and the camp is quite positive and we are confident we can do well in this hostile environment. It’s World Cup qualifiers and it’s a different animal this time around,” said the former Caledonia AIA defender.
The Guatemalans are smelling blood and will be gunning for Jones and his men after being blown away in the first half in July at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“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 their head coach Ivan Sopegno. The hosts will look to veteran Carlos Ruiz and Marco Papa to lead their attack on the night.
T&T have not won a World Cup qualifier in Guatemala since 1989 when the Strike Squad defeated the homeside 1-0 on a Kerry Jamerson winner. Hart will have all 22 players at his disposal today with 11 reserves allowed to sit on the bench.