THE significance of Trinidad and Tobago's World Cup qualifier against Panama on October 8 can be seen by the urgency with which national coach Leo Beenhakker is treating it.
The Dutchman has requested that the T&T Warriors arrive in Panama a full five days before the important qualifier, which they must win.
Beenhakker, who is in Barbados, has also requested that in case of injury, his squad should include three goalkeepers. England-based Clayton Ince has since been informed that he may very well be in the touring party.
Most of Beenhakker's players, including the British-based professionals, are due in Panama on October 3. The coach will carry 20 players to Panama for the clash at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City.
The Warriors will be in Panama for a week, returning home just two days prior to the final CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Mexico on October 12 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
The national team will prepare for both games in Central America, before rounding off preparation for the Mexico match in Trinidad.
Apparently, coach Beenhakker, who is expected to name his team next week, is trying to avoid some of the problems of the Costa Rica trip, where the team had to travel an entire day, train the next day and then play against the Costa Ricans, who beat T&T 2-0.
It proved to be all too rushed, coming after playing against Guatemala at home five days earlier.
Manager Bruce Aanensen said because they do not have a game before, like when T&T played Costa Rica, they can leave early and put in more thorough preparation.
"The coach said that rather than do part preparation here (Trinidad) and part over there, we will do all the preparation in Panama. We will probably also carry over 20 players, so that if there is an injury we don't want to have to send for a player to fly all the way to Panama."
Trinidad and Tobago fans will not see their Warriors prior to the final CONCACAF qualifier in Port of Spain on October 12.
Most, including the British-based professionals, will assemble in Miami, USA on Monday October 3. The foreign pros will play English and Scottish football on the previous Saturday, with the exception of midfielder Russell Latapy and Australian-based captain Dwight Yorke, who have games on Sunday October 2.
"Only Yorke and Latapy are playing on the Sunday. Latapy can still leave the next day and meet us because we have a long lay over in Miami. But because of where Dwight is coming from, he will probably only get to Miami in the night and will probably leave for Panama on the Tuesday (October 4).
Yesterday, T&T assistant manager George Joseph said he had a request from Beenhakker to make early arrangements for the trip.
Joseph was also currently liaising with Panama officials to book suitable hotel arrangements as they are having some difficulty making bookings in Panama.
The hotel they had initially secured has informed them it is fully booked. They were referred to three other hotels, but those are also booked because of a big convention taking place in Panama City.
However, manager Aanensen is confident that everything will work out next week.
Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala are battling for CONCACAF's fourth and final qualifying spot to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, behind the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica.
With Guatemala unlikely to get any points from their next game against Mexico, a victory over Panama will give T&T a distinct advantage going into their final qualifying match against Mexico.
The fourth CONCACAF qualifier will meet the winner of an Asian Zone playoff between Uzbekistan and Bahrain for a place in next year's World Cup.