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Fri, Dec

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The young "Soca Princesses" will undergo a stern test of their collective mettle when they face Chile in the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup on opening day Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Nine years after the boys Under-17 World Cup hosted here, Trinidad and Tobago's Under-17 girls have a chance to make history, says national goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams, a member of that 2001 crop.

Williams, now a regular between the uprights for the senior team, says that 2001 tournament was crucial in shaping both his footballing career today, and his life.

"Preparing for a World Cup is no joke. You have to prepare your mind and body to reach that level. It sets a good foundation from young," Williams advised the T&T Under-17 women during a telephone interview with the Express.

Now T&T's first choice goalkeeper, the 25-year-old Williams said one of the things that stood out in his mind in 2001 was the fact that every player had a "different journey" to get to the final squad. Some players had been dropped before, others did not play much youth football, while others still were regulars.

He said it was the socialising among the players that kept them together, and added that God had the "biggest part to play" in the team.

"At the end of the day, God has everyone here," Williams stated.

The W Connection custodian revealed that the learning curve in the lead-up to, and during the 2001 tournament, was very steep, and required players to mature quickly.

"The build-up was always exciting, travelling from country to country, everything was new. We were getting to an age of maturity," Williams pointed out.

"Everything that happened around that time would have been for the first time. Just meeting people, learning things, was important, (both) and off the field as well. You have to learn how to get along with people, travel, interact with people in other countries."

Williams, who has represented T&T at the Under-20 and Under-23 levels too, described the crowds at T&T's Under-17 World Cup matches in 2001 as "the best (home crowds) I've ever experienced".

The 2006 Pro League Player of the Year said the experience of being praised by fans, and signing autographs was a bit "overwhelming" for "young unknown players".

"Trying to go to the stadium, two hours before the game against Brazil, I could remember people trying to storm the stadium to get in. I played abroad and see stuff like that happening, the stadium was overfilled and people still trying to get into the venue."

But Williams warned the Under-17 women not to get overawed by the World stage in their own backyard.

"Don't ever see the opponent, regardless of who it is, bigger than you. I think in Trinidad a lot of quality players have that complex that these guys on TV play high level football better than them," he advised.

He added that players should not focus on the size of the crowd, whether big or small. "Block it out completely," Williams added.

The senior Soca Warrior also pointed out that in sport, things can change very quickly. He has learned this from experience.

"I could remember (forward) Nkosi Blackman had that solo effort (against Croatia) from the half-line. At that point in time, there wasn't a striker in Trinidad, both senior and junior more well-known than this particular young feller.

"The Christmas after when he was in the accident," Williams related, "I went into the hospital after, when he was in the bed, (and I thought) how quickly things can change."

So, to the Under-17 Soca Princesses he added: "Cherish every moment as if it was your last."