Tue, Jul

No liming tonight fellas. You all have a game to watch. 

Three days before his first real test as successor to Francisco Maturana, Russell Latapy has the opportunity to get a very good look at how the Costa Ricans shape up when they host the United States in San Jose in what will be the fourth series of games for both sides in the final phase of CONCACAF qualifying for South Africa 2010.
Maybe this duel of the second-placed Central Americans and the unbeaten leaders USA has caught you by surprise, seeing as how it's almost taken for granted that fixtures in this decisive six-team round-robin grouping are usually played on the same day. I was certainly taken aback when I read yesterday of the Yanks expressing confidence ahead of the top-of-the-table showdown on their arrival in Costa Rica.

It would, however, be disappointing in the extreme if the new national head coach doesn't make it mandatory for every single member of the squad to be most present in a single room at the team hotel in the sister isle to view and, maybe the next morning depending on how late it finishes, analyse the game.

In fact, if he has to engage in any additional persuasion to get players, who may have other plans for the evening, to appreciate their priorities at this time, then he may want to think about some late changes to the squad of 22 that he announced on Monday.

Of course, assistant coach Zoran Vranes, who will be in San Jose to watch tonight's encounter first-hand, is expected to present a comprehensive report with all sorts of technical and tactical analysis when he returns to Tobago. But if representing Trinidad and Tobago and making it to the World Cup finals for the second consecutive tournament really means so much to these players, they will need no urging whatsoever to take advantage of every single opportunity to learn more about the opponents they will be squaring off against in an absolutely vital fixture on Saturday at the Dwight Yorke Stadium.

Whether local or foreign-based, a true professional is always prepared to do that little bit more, always keen to find any way to get more information on the competition. It's not so much about oohing and aahing at dribbling skills and boasting about how you can do better than so-and-so, but studying opponents' strengths and weaknesses in the hope that something is discovered that can be exploited when it really matters.

To many of us on the outside, it seems incomprehensible that any professional sportsman or woman would not jump at the chance to gain some sort of advantage, or even grasp an opportunity to watch masterful exponents of particular skills and hopefully learn a thing or two from them, even if it is off a television set many miles away from the action.

Yet it is in this context that I'm reminded of an incident on the opening day of that dramatic 2005 Ashes cricket series, a day at Lord's in which 17 wickets fell with Glenn McGrath ripping through England's top order to reduce the hosts to 92 for seven at stumps after Australia had been bundled out for just 190.

Almost 6,000 miles away in the hilly central Sri Lankan town of Kandy, the West Indies and Sri Lanka were on the eve of the second and final Test of their brief series. Because of the time difference, several players on both sides took advantage of the chance to watch the action "live" that evening following their practice sessions and team meetings.

Front and centre, and seeming to be studying almost every aspect of McGrath's devastating opening burst was Chaminda Vaas, the Sri Lankan left-armer and a cricketer with vast experience who had certainly proven over a decade of international cricket that he knew a thing or two about seam and swing. But there he was, like an obedient pupil learning at the feet of a contemporary master, even if it was only off the TV screen.

In contrast, a feisty young West Indies fast bowler passed by and, as he observed the preoccupation with the Aussie bowler's exploits on a sunny afternoon in faraway London, boasted to the effect that when he played at Lord's the year before, his deliveries were hitting the pitch at more than 90 miles-per-hour.

As said pacer sauntered off to attend to his own trivial pursuits, it is reported that a West Indian among the cricket-watchers muttered: "Yeah? Allyuh ask him the speed he was coming off the bat nah."

You get the point. It doesn't matter that the Caribbean cricketer with the oversized ego has added to the increasing ranks of mediocre performers with the new ball for the regional side. Even if he was a champion wicket-taker, it would have been more than mildly disappointing for any cricketer of worth and with a sense of professional integrity to turn away from a potential learning experience.

And that's what tonight's game in San Jose should be viewed as by the entire Trinidad and Tobago football squad-a learning experience.

With only two points from three games and a visit to Mexico City the following Wednesday to take on a home side under massive pressure to recover from a poor start to this final stage, we need to squeeze every extra drop of information we can get in the countdown to Saturday. It's called professionalism, in the very best sense of the word.