Bernd Stange is supposed to be an isolated figure — in addition to being the holder of the most difficult occupation in football — yet he found himself among friends as he left The Hawthorns yesterday.
As he tried to board the team bus, which was parked outside the main entrance on Halfords Lane, the Iraq head coach was approached by 30 excited Iraqis who wanted autographs, photographs, and a chance to offer their affections. Not even the sight of Stange's bodyguard, a colossal individual ominously provided by the Home Office, could neutralise the poignancy and beauty of the moment.
For sure, Iraq lost 2-0 to Trinidad & Tobago, having made two ghastly defensive mistakes, but this was an afternoon when the hopes of nation were placed in the hands of 18 footballers and their incomparable German coach. The pursuit of football was secondary to the pursuit of friendship.
"I would like to say thank you to West Bromwich Albion and the people here for all the hospitality," Stange said. "And I bring some good messages to the world. We are still alive, we are playing football and we are looking forward to the World Cup qualifying matches, the Asian Cup, and the Olympic Games."
Stange has a gift for colourful language but it was a man who has a gift for important goals who won this match for Trinidad. Stern John, the Birmingham City striker, took advantage of the defensive mistakes to score both goals.
That should have made it a good day for John, especially as his goals represented the only times in the match that he touched the ball, but he was sent off midway through the second half for inexplicably lashing out at Haidar Obaid.
The majority of the 2,000-plus people inside The Hawthorns were supporting Iraq, and doing so with much ardour, and they did not take kindly to John's transgression. That was not what concerned Stange, however. His team played most of the sweet football — the one-touch passing through the midfield sometimes took the breath away — but did not create a single worthwhile chance.
With less possession, and a direct style of play that is alien to Iraqis, Trinidad looked more threatening. "We made horrible mistakes," Stange said. "You should not see such mistakes at international level, never, never, never. It looks very nice in the midfield and passing was nice to watch. My players have good skills. But if they want to win the game those skills are not good enough.
"Too often we make good chances but the players do not have strong enough shots to score goals. Also, we were missing four or five players, and that was too many for us on this occasion. In terms of play and passing, there was no different between Iraq and the Trinidad & Tobago team. The difference was that we made two mistakes and they did not."
For the first goal, in the 30th minute, Jerren Nixon darted to the byeline on the left flank and, although his cross was blocked by Saad Nassir, the ball broke to John whose shot was deflected high into the goal.
Iraq continued to dominate, sweeping the ball about with the minimum of effort, and creating triangles that often defied mathematical logic. Basim Abbas, a defender who looks like Roberto Carlos and has the same desire to break forward, seemed to sum up Iraq's play: plenty of potential, poor end product.
In the 66th minute, Obaid succeeded only in giving the ball away to Arnold Dwarika, the Trinidad midfield player, on the edge of the penalty area and when it was passed to John, the consequences were inevitable.
A shame then that John, usually so serene, should disfigure the occasion two minutes later with his retaliatory intervention. Not that one would have noticed that Trinidad were down to ten men. Iraq were well defeated by then, the authors of their own downfall. They should perform better in the Asian Cup in China in July and in the Olympic Games football tournament in Athens in August, by which time Stange will have added to his reputation as the most patient man in football.
"Training is the most important thing for my players," he said. "When you have no facilities, no physiotherapist, no stadiums, no headquarters, you can do little else other than train and play."
At the final whistle, Stange walked up towards the Easter Stand, to thank the admiring Iraq supporters. As they cheered, he placed his right fist firmly against his heart. Nowhere in the world is the relationship between the citizens of a country and their football manager stronger.
Scorer: John (30), 0-1; John (66), 0-2.
IRAQ (3-5-2): Nassir; Aoda, Obaid, Abbas; Karim, Khadim (Turki, 78), Munir, Hashim (Sadir, 70), Swadi; Fawzi (Jawad, 46; Farhan, 78), Manajid. Subs not used: Talib, Abdul-Amir, Muhsin.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO (4-4-2): Ince; Sancho, Cox, Andrews, Mason (Lawrence, 74); Edwards, Dwarika, Eve, Jemmot (Boucaud, 61); Nixon (Jones, 61), John. Subs not used: Williams, Rojas, King, Theobald, Baptiste.
Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).
Sending-off: Trindad & Tobago — John (violent conduct).
Man of the match: Basim Abbas (Iraq) — dominated the flank at left back and did much to suggest that a move to a European club is probable. Looks like Roberto Carlos and has a similar playing style.