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Latapy trainingDreams of South Africa 2010 have disappeared long ago. Instead, Trinidad and Tobago’s football stars like Kenwyne Jones and Carlos Edwards might be forgiven for having one eye on the next assignment for their professional clubs on the weekend.

The Mexican national team are unlikely to risk much either. “El Tricolor” have already booked their spot at next year’s World Cup and it would be difficult for them not to see tonight’s 8 pm kick off at the Hasely Crawford Stadium as an anti-climax.

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) showed their appreciation for the contest too by slashing ticket prices to $300 (covered stands) and $200 (uncovered).

Soca Warriors trainingFor national player/ coach Russell “the Little Magician” Latapy, though, tonight’s match might as well be a Cup final.

Latapy’s contract at the helm ends this month and, despite the niceties from the media and the relative understanding from the public, one of the country’s most gifted past players would know that he can take little for granted on these shores.

From seven outings since he inherited Francisco Maturana’s post, Latapy has managed just two wins with five losses and even the triumphs were not exactly stirring stuff—a nervous 1-0 World Cup qualifying triumph over El Salvador and a scrappy 3-2 away win against St Kitts and Nevis.

More often than not, the “Soca Warriors” have played the role of valiant loser—as in a 3-2 loss to Costa Rica at Bacolet and a 2-1 defeat against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium—and that is not the sort of returns to guarantee a long career in this profession.

Even worse, there was nothing plucky about the hiding received in Costa Rica on Saturday when only superb individual performance from W. Connection goalkeeper Marvin Phillip prevented a score much worse than the eventual 4-0 deficit while the Warriors looked as woeful as they had on April 1, 2009 when they lost 3-0 to the United States at Nashville.

Results aside, there are a few more worrying statistics that need redress.

Soca Warriors fanThe Warriors are yet to successfully recover once behind while, remarkably, 11 of our 16 goals conceded came in the second half. This suggests that either Latapy’s halftime speeches need work or his substitutions are less than inspired. Maybe even both.

Collin Samuel apart, who came off the bench to score within 20 minutes against Costa Rica, there has been little obvious value to Latapy’s changes while his tactical shuffle when he introduced veteran Dwight Yorke—now his assistant coach—against El Salvador almost cost us the game. Samuel, incidentally, is notable by his absence and he is not the only one.

It beggars belief that Latapy cannot find a place in his squad, let alone his starting line-up, for Belgium-based man-child Khaleem Hyland, arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s most complete midfielder since Aurtis Whitley in his pomp.

Denizlispor striker Darryl Roberts and W. Connection attacker Andre Toussaint might have also boosted a squad that lacks offensive firepower and it is ironic that Defence Force striker Devon Jorsling has become a fixture at a time when his form is below his usual standards.

Wigan striker Jason Scotland spends so much time wondering where his next game is coming from that he looks shorn of confidence in national colours while Caledonia AIA midfielder Keon Daniel, who scored four times in the earlier qualifying rounds, has regressed since Maturana’s departure and Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones is yet to open his account for Latapy.

The Little Magician, who opted to make his debut as coach in Bacolet, must get his men to ignite Port of Spain tonight.

Joe Public midfielder Trent Noel, who was superb for much of this campaign, and Ipswich winger Carlos Edwards were below their best in San Jose and should aim to make up for that tonight while Hayden Tinto would remind Latapy of his superb strike in the Azteca—the first competitive goal by any Trinidad and Tobago player in Mexico City.

Mexico travelled with the likes of Arsenal striker Carlos Vela and, given half a chance, they are capable of hurting the hosts. We must attack them first. A good closing result can only help Latapy’s job prospects.