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21
Sat, Oct

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CONCACAF President Austin Jack Warner may just have pulled off the football coup of this campaign by combining with captain Dwight Yorke to lure veteran midfielder Russell Latapy back into the national fold.


What an Independence gift to the nation to have the country’s most creative player returning from his self-imposed exile?

Putting country before self, albeit belatedly.

But who is going to argue now when everything lies in out future?
    
Better to be positive, neh?

Or, it could mean at the end of the day, I will have to eat my words, because I have been hankering for Latapy’s return to the team, on the premise he, Latapy, still being heads above the current crop of midfielders even at the age of 37, could make the difference between a 0-1 loss to the US and a battling 1-1 draw and that vital away point.

That last game against the US was frustrating because we created so few opportunities to score, the visiting team not inclined at all to take the half chances when so few clear-cut chances were on offer.

The Americans just kept the pressure on, running us ragged, but that’s exactly what World Cup qualification is all about, playing under that sort of pressure, and still having the fortitude and resilience to overcome that hurdle.

But we can’t cry over spilt milk.

Four points from six games is what we have gotten, it just means we need a home game desperately.

Hello, Guatemala!

We are so happy to have you here, we admire you courage and strength, but right now we need those three points, so sorry if we are not the best host right now.

Perhaps, you can return next year for a pre-World Cup warm-up, and we can take you to Maracas Bay and give you some bake and shark, and shake hands real friendly like.

Gracias.

This Saturday has to be a war; the first of four wars. Crunch-time in the campaign ... this is where you have to step it up.

I know this is really Leo’s job but I just want to reinforce the point, to let the guys know that the little people are backing them.

Whatever the result, and it must be positive, this game has to be the stepping-stone to our visits to Costa Rica and Panama.

The Warriors have to show their ever-loving faithfuls that they are prepared to go out there and take the pain and shed blood to get through these next three games.

And then, Mexico in November ...

The truth is though, even if we get that all-important victory over Guatemala, it may still be too little too late for Leo’s boys.

It would be great for the chest thumping and bone-chilling howling at the Hasely Crawford Stadium if we could win and set things square after the Central Americans thumped us 5-1 in the first leg.

But I have to wonder if these guys are really up to the task, having failed in Mexico and the US with those two opportunities.

Two more opportunities await us in Costa Rica and Panama, probably not as difficult, but that does not mean it is going to be easy.

Hell, no!!!

Can the laid-back Trinbagonian player really conquer the battle-ready Guatemalan in a scrap?

Do we have the stones to conquer in this “do-or-die” situation, because this match on Saturday is as big a match as you can get in the second half of the series?

A loss or a draw to Guatemala will leave us requiring a miracle to qualify for 2006.

Am I overstating the case?

Guatemala already has seven points ... their players can almost taste the German cheese and beer, so they are coming to Trinidad prepared to die against a team that is stumbling through the qualification series with one win and a draw from six games.

They are coming to throw everything at us. It is the rule of nature, we are limping on the African veld, and the predators can sense our desperation ...

Guatemala must appreciate a victory in Trinidad will almost certainly kill our chances and that will certainly fuel their drive.

So, we must surrender to our primal instinct, the need to survive, and that must fuel our drive.

Leo has drawn his last card, and it’s a big ace.

How is he going to use this ace?

I don’t know.

At 37, Latapy is still a very young man, but in the rituals of World Cup qualification, he is past his best.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think he can take the intensity of 90 minutes on the pitch, so Leo will have to gamble, and keep Latapy on the bench, hoping the younger legs can do the job for him, team and country.

Personally, I would try for two bites of the cherry, getting Latapy in there with five minutes left in the first half, hoping he can create enough chaos to sneak in one before the break, and then allowing him all of the second half to enjoy himself.

Ideally, the younger men should have done the job before Latapy enters the fray because I don’t want the other players to get into the dependency syndrome, the way the West Indian batsmen seem to lean on Brian Lara, and they don’t put too much pressure on Latas to deliver.

With goals at a premium, Leo must be thinking of using Latapy as the attacking midfielder behind Stern John and Yorke, and that will mean the other midfielders have to double their workload.

It isn’t going to make much sense having Latapy coming from deep in the defensive half of the pitch, as was the case when last he played for the national team.

Latas has to get inside the penalty area and draw defenders, giving Stern and Dwight a little breathing space.

We have not looked penetrative on any consistent level during the campaign, and now the challenge is for Leo to make ample use of the Little Magician.

I can only pray that Dwight and Jack’s effort has not been in vain, and we are all left with egg on our faces.

On another point, I would really like to see that old boy Shaka Hislop back in goal.

I don’t know what exactly Leo sees in Kelvin Jack; sure the guy is a competent goalkeeper, but any of the goalkeepers we have, Hislop or Clayton Ince, would have come up with those great saves Jack made during the Concacaf Gold Cup the World Cup campaign so far.

I may be wrong, but I think all those Premiership games in England, and World Cup qualifiers must add up to something, and Hislop is just the best option for me.

There is just no substitute for experience.

I would breathe a lot easier on Saturday having the West Ham second choice doing the business.

Okay Leo, over to you.

Best of luck, guys!