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21
Sat, Oct

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HE made magic on the field with a football at his feet. So much so that Russell Latapy was affectionately dubbed the "Little Magician" by fans, who for over 30 years adored his silky skills, eye for a good pass, and also his ability to get a football into the back of the net.
But, today, the former Porto and Glasgow Rangers midfielder, will seek to transfer a decade of playing at top international level for club and country into success as a head coach, when he takes on his first international assignment in charge of the Trinidad and Tobago national football team.

Latas' first test is indeed a tough one, a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, a team T&T have never beaten in 12 World Cup appearances.

The Tico's have also won three home matches to lead the CONCACAF Final Round of FIFA 2010 World Cup qualifying with nine points, while T&T are at the bottom after draws against El Salvador (2-2) and Honduras (1-1).

The match kicks off from 6.05 p.m. at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet, Tobago and will be carried live on C Television channel.

At yesterday's training session Latapy disclosed that he is not sufficiently fit to take the field as a player against either Costa Rica or Mexico on June 10. But, the

"Little Magician" left no doubt about his focus.

"We have to win at home. To stay in the competition you need to win your home games and that's what we going and will be trying to do.

"It's a big occasion for football in Trinidad and Tobago so we going to take it as seriously as we should," Latapy said.

"Football has always been eleven vs eleven. So, we are going to be eleven vs eleven. I believe we will like to have the fairytale ending whereby it's his (Dwight Yorke's) first game here in Tobago and my first game as coach and we can win the game.

"But, we will see how it goes. We will go out and do our best and hopefully we can make Trinidad and Tobago proud."

A few months ago, Latapy said it was the time to give the youth a chance. But having now assumed the hot seat which was vacated on April 8 when Colombian Francisco Maturana stepped down as head coach, Latapy has returned to the tried and tested formula. With the exception of a few missing pieces, Latapy has re-assembled the Soca Warriors, the 2006 World Cup squad.

Back are central defender Marvin "Dog" Andrews, who has not worn Trinidad and Tobago colours since getting injured prior to the 2006 World Cup.

Latas' promotion has also been a lucky omen for left winger Collin Samuel, Avery John and Silvio Spann, all of whom seemed to have reached the end of the line under Maturana.

Yesterday, Latapy disclosed that he had put together a good enough team to win and that based on the players available, he had a decent idea of what he wanted to do.

But, he declined to discuss tactics and will only reveal his final 18-man squad today.

"Am happy as I can be. Ideally I would have liked to have more time to work with the team. I must say congrats to the players, they have worked hard and they have made my decisions very difficult."

The last time Trinidad and Tobago met Costa Rica, the Ticos ran off 4-0 victors over a weakened T&To team.

Dutchman Wim Rijsbergen was still in charge. Latapy's task is to produce a team that plays well and scores goals.

He also has to produce a team that keeps it shape and consistently plays football for 90 minutes.

For sure, Costa Rica will be confident and will work hard. Costa Rica will consistently run off the ball, exploiting any failure by the Soca Warriors' midfielders and defenders to also work hard.

The test as a coach is not just to win, but whether he can get an aging defence to keep shape. It is also whether he can get key players, like Carlos Edwards and Kenwyne Jones, to aggressively deliver for self and country, and reluctant workers like Keon Daniel and Khaleem Hyland to put in a full shift for the team. Latapy hinted that he will be the task master.

"In today's game you supposed to run off the ball and you are supposed to track players who run off the ball when you are defending, So that will be part of our normal game," Latas said.

Latapy has consistently preached that there is nothing new in football and is satisfied with the team's fitness. But, will experienced old legs be enough against a Costa Rica team which three days ago ran rings around a USA squad in defeating the Americans 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier in San Jose.

Will Latapy succeed in his bid to create a Soca Warriors performance the country will be proud off? One thing is for sure, everyone wants him too.

T&T's 22-man squad:

Clayton Ince, Marvin Phillip, Jan Michael Williams, Dennis Lawrence, Marvin Andrews, Keyeno Thomas, Makan Hislop, Keon Daniel, Khaleem Hyland, Dwight Yorke, Chris Birchall,Densill Theobald, Trent Noel Carlos Edwards, Silvio Spann, Kenwyne Jones, Avery John, Cornell Glen, Kerry Baptiste. Collin Samuel, Hayden Tinto, Jason Scotland.