LEO BEENHAKKER feels that Russell Latapy added a little bit extra to his team yesterday. Playing his first international game in four years, the "Little Magician" capped his return with a goal and victory.
Memories of Latapy at his best must have filled the mind, as the diminutive footballer weaved his way through the Guatemala defence to level the score at 1-1 early in the second half. As the ball hit the back of the Guatemala net, Trinidad & Tobago erupted in ecstasy.
A game that had everything, tension, frustration and finally elation, saw the Warriors coming from a goal down to win 3-2 before a 20,000 strong crowd of happy natives at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Afterwards Beenhakker said his Warriors have a right to be happy-a little bit- following an excellent victory which that kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Afterwards, the Dutchman spoke about Latapy's contribution.
"At least he is giving me more possibilities and balance in the team. You know in the team you like everybody, you like the player who can get the ball back, you like guys who are willing to run, and you like guys who play with a lot of intelligence. And in that way, he (Latapy) is a very intelligent player. He has a very good eye for running with the ball. He has a very good eye for the free man, and the way he is playing now, he gives something extra in the balance of the team."
Beenhakker was also high in praise for the battling qualities of all his Warriors.
Once again, they suffered an early setback, conceding a goal after just three minutes, but battled to the very end to pick up the victory. Even if they had lost, the Dutchman might have been pleased with what he saw.
"I think, more than ever, the team has deserved this victory, and the way they fight the last moment is a big difference from the first half hour in the USA. So, at least they learnt their lesson. That made me, of course, very happy.
"We had a difficult start again, just like the USA match of course. But, I have to say the team after this disappointment, conceding a goal after just two minutes, coped very well. They did what I coached. In my opinion, I think they deserved in the first half to get a goal. We weren't very lucky in the first half, and it was the same thing in the second half. I think we did a good performance."
On the field, Beenhakker had many heroes. Brent Sancho played like a Trojan, compensating for another sub-par performance from fellow stopper Marvin Andrews. Sancho was everywhere, tackling with aplomb the difficult job of containing the ever-dangerous Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz with aplomb. Also doing well were Silvio Spann and Aurtis Whittley.
Dwight Yorke took on the captain's responsibility, linking the team together when they fell behind.
And most of all, Stern John became the T&T sweetheart again by scoring two goals, one to tie the game at 2-2 in the 86th and the winner in the 87th. Shrugging off poor form, bad luck and growing criticism, John become the hero of the day. He worked hard throughout, but had no luck until he scored the two crucial goals. .
Yesterday, Trinidad & Tobago saw two familiar things. Latapy is playing again and Stern is scoring again. However, what they haven't seen for sometime is Trinidad and Tobago battling back to win at the death. At least, not since Kerry Jamerson unleashed a bullet in 1989 to beat another Guatemala team.
Guatemala coach Ramon Maradiaga said his team were at no time inferior to Trinidad and Tobago. He added that his team's chances of reaching the World Cup are excellent, and as good as any of the other teams still in contention. But with games against Costa Rica, the United States and Mexico to come, Maradiaga seemed to be putting on a brave face. Guatemala's World Cup chances might well have disappeared when John netted that very late winner.