Trinidad and Tobago are joint top of their CONCACAF qualifying group for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and with ambitious young players such as Khaleem Hyland among their ranks, they are understandably aiming high.
Hyland shares new coach Otto Pfister’s view that Trinidad and Tobago has football in the blood, and believes his team-mates have a real desire to succeed. “Every player in this team wants to make a name for himself and take Trinidad and Tobago back to the top,” the Racing Genk midfielder told FIFA.com. “The squad has a first-class mentality. We’re a team with guts, heart and soul.”
The Soca Warriors have won both of their second-round qualifiers for Brazil 2014 to date, and their strong position in Group B suggests Hyland’s faith is well-placed. They face crucial ties against Bermuda and Barbados in October, before a group finale against Guyana on 15 November that could seal their place in the third round.
“The group of players that took part in the first two matches will be there right to the end of the qualifying campaign,” said Hyland, formerly of local islands powers San Juan Jabloteh. “We don’t lack experience at this level, and we have a good balance about us. We’re a young, talented side, and the coach will do all he can to add new strengths to our game.”
Soca Warriors aiming high
The 22-year-old already has 29 international caps to his name, and his European passport only serves to strengthen his status as one of the leaders in the side. “The coach understandably expects a bit more from the European-based players,” said Hyland, who plays for reigning Belgian champions Genk. “Despite my young age, he asks me to speak with the newcomers and not just to do well on the pitch. I do it with pleasure, because there’s a great team spirit among this group.”
Hyland received his first international call-up in 2008 – two years after Trinidad and Tobago’s FIFA World Cup debut in Germany. The midfielder may not have been part of that historic campaign, but he was lucky enough to play alongside national hero Dwight Yorke, which he described as “a fantastic experience."
It has taken Trinidad and Tobago several years to regroup after their exploits at Germany 2006. However, with a new star in the shape of captain and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones, Hyland believes the Warriors have “all the ingredients to qualify [for Brazil 2014] and stay at the top for a long time."
The level-headed midfielder knows it will not be an easy task, however, and recognises that “to go all the way, we need to be better than we were against Bermuda, where the intense heat created difficult conditions."
Hyland, who has three international goals to his name, has faith in Pfister’s ability to find the winning formula. The vastly experienced German most recently managed Cameroon and prior to that Togo, but the Trinidad and Tobago job represents his first taste of life in the CONCACAF region. “He brings experience,” said Hyland. “He knows football and is used to managing national teams, so he helps us benefit from his knowledge.”
“He’s only been in charge of two qualifying matches and he’ll need time to make his mark, but he’s already giving us confidence,” said Hyland. “He talks with us frequently and gives us all a boost. He makes the younger players in particular want to play for him.”
Hungry for success
Soon after joining English side Portsmouth, Hyland went on loan to Zulte Waregem and enjoyed two successful seasons with the club before making his move to Genk. Reflecting on his learning curve for club and country, Hyland said: “I’m 200 per cent focused on my objective."
“Signing for Genk and playing in the Champions League is a natural progression for my career. I’m stepping up to a new level, so I know I’ve made the right decision,” added Hyland, a substitute for Genk’s recent UEFA Champions League opener against Valencia, which ended in a goalless draw.
Hyland missed out on Premier League football with Portsmouth after failing to secure a work permit, but the setback has only increased his hunger to play at the highest level. He will no doubt be hoping for a starting role in Genk’s Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, before turning his attention to the Brazil 2014 preliminaries with Trinidad and Tobago.
As our interview drew to a close, the midfielder expressed a desire for the national team to build on their fine start to the qualifying campaign. “It’s time for Trinidad and Tobago to prove that we are capable of taking centre stage,” he said.