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21
Sat, Oct

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Trinidad and Tobago national football team captain Dwight Yorke yesterday declared he had learnt his lesson from November 19, 1989 as the country again stands on the verge of a senior World Cup place.


Yorke was 18 years old when the national team, dubbed the "Strike Squad", came within a point of the 1990 World Cup tournament only to lose 1-0 to the United States at the National Stadium.

At 6.30 p.m. today, Trinidad and Tobago meet Bahrain in the first game of a two-leg Play-Off at the same venue-since rechristened the Hasely Crawford Stadium-and Yorke is desperate not to let a second chance go by.

"I have a lot more experience now," said Yorke. "I think that 1989 has taught me to be calm and realise the job is not done. I think we were maybe a little ahead of ourselves before in the sense that the country was celebrating already that we had qualified for a World Cup.

"So we have learned that and Russell (Latapy) and I are here to bring that experience to the team and let them know that the job is far from over."

Yorke, who won every trophy possible in the English domestic game and Europe, insisted that today's match was of huge importance and at least as big as representing Manchester United in the 1998-99 European Champions League final.

"As a young footballer growing up," said Yorke, "this is (the type of match) you dream of playing in."

Trinidad and Tobago national coach Leo Beenhakker has a slightly different motivation.

Beenhakker coached Holland at the 1990 World Cup and also helped Saudi Arabia qualify for the 1994 tournament. His resume also included spells with top European clubs like Real Madrid and Ajax Amsterdam.

The Dutch-born coach was guarded, as usual, with his pre-match comments and said little about his own team. However, he did make an observation about the two teams.

"For me, having ball possession is the best defence," said Beenhakker. "(Bahrain) pay a lot of attention to defence and are looking always for the shortest way to come in front They do not complicate their life by looking for too much ball possession."

Bahrain coach Luka Peruzovic also offered a wry comment about the Trinidad and Tobago team when asked about the visitors.

"We have no star players like Trinidad and Tobago," said Peruzovic. "Dwight Yorke everybody knows in the world. Russell Latapy is the same and Stern John has 13 goals We have ordinary players but good and motivated.

"Reality is (on) the pitch."

Neither Trinidad and Tobago nor Bahrain have ever qualified for a senior World Cup final. T&T are ranked 53rd in the world by FIFA, two places higher than Bahrain.

Trinidad and Tobago booked their Play-Off spot by winning their last two fixtures-1-0 away to Panama and 2-1 at home to Mexico-which saw them knock Guatemala out of CONCACAF's fourth place, while Bahrain edged out Uzbekistan in an Asian Play-Off by the away goal rule after drawing 1-1 away and then goalless at home. Goals scored by the visiting team are doubled as a tie-breaker.

In more mind games, both coaches claimed to have a fully-fit squad, although Bahrain star striker Alaa Hubail has played little football over the last seven months due to a knee injury, while Yorke and his compatriots Kelvin Jack, Carlos Edwards, Kenwyne Jones, Brent Sancho and Shaka Hislop have all been bothered by injuries recently.

Trinidad and Tobago must make home advantage count today and Yorke suggested he was mindful of the sociological benefits of a positive result by the football team, as the country tries to cope with escalating crime.

"Football is a really important thing in this part of the world," said Yorke, who received best wishes from West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago cricket star Brian Lara. "If we qualify, that will bring the whole of Trinidad and Tobago together and certainly help to eliminate the crime."

But he insisted that today's match represents just the first half of the Play-Off fixture and the team was not going to get carried away.

"We respect them a great deal but we do not over-respect them," said Yorke. "We need to be on our guard and not take this game for granted."

Yorke and more than a million Trinidad and Tobago fans hope that therein lies the secret to slaying the ghosts of 1989.