Sun, Jun

COACH Anton Corneal can do absolutely nothing about the cold weather expected in Carson, California, USA, except to inform his charges as to what to expect.

His Trinidad and Tobago Under-20 footballers are about to embark on a mission to become just the second T&T national football team to qualify for a World Championship. Bertille St Clair's 1990 squad, which produced senior national players such as Dwight Yorke, Jerren Nixon, Dean Pacheco, Clayton Ince, Angus Eve, and the late Richard "Bomber" Theodore, became the first when qualifying for the 1991 FIFA Under-20 World Championship in Portugal.

The current Trinidad and Tobago Under-20s leave next Saturday for the United States to compete in Group A of the CONCACAF Under-20 Final Round Qualifiers which will see the top two finishers advancing to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands from June 10-July 2.

Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Panama and Costa Rica will contest the CONCACAF Final Round tournament from January 12-16 in California.

Coach Corneal would have liked to have a couple of international warm-ups before going off to the United States but in the absence of that, the young Soca Warriors prepared with a 6-2 victory over a combined team made up of national Under-23s and foreign-based T&T college players last Thursday at Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.

Getting among the goals for the national Under-20s were United States-based Abiola Sandy, who got a brace; Devon Maxwell; Radanfar Abu Bakr; Kevin Crooks and Cordell Samuel.

Corneal said his team is tournament-ready and they have been training twice a day from their camp at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya.

"We have done all that is required to prepare for a tournament," said Corneal yesterday. "We are ready."

He also felt they had a good chance of emulating St Clair's team of 14 years ago.

"I think our chances of qualifying are good. I am not one to dwell on the negatives. I am hoping that the temperature stays about 50 degrees (F), but there is nothing we can do if it falls to 40 degrees. Rain, sun or cold, we are going there to play," stated Corneal.

The former T&T national striker was not able to get a few international warm-ups which he would have liked and instead will round off his squad's training next week with games against National Super League club Joe Public and the Trinidad and Tobago senior national team.

He also hopes to get a game in Los Angeles before opening the tournament against a powerful American line-up on January 12.

Trinidad and Tobago reached the CONCACAF Final Round after drawing 3-3 with Cuba at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium last month to qualify 6-5 on aggregate, after a 3-2 victory in Cuba.

Joining the team since then have been United States-based college players Clevon George, Abiola Sandy, Markhan Hislop, Kevin Crooks, Ancil Faria and Kareem Smith.

Also being strongly considered is Bolton Wanderers striker Ricky Shakes, who has returned to England after a recent trial in Trinidad, his mother's homeland.

Corneal announced he will cut the 25-member team on Monday to the final 18 who will go to the CONCACAF tournament.

Although the addition of the new players has strengthened the team's defence, Corneal was not totally pleased by the performances of the wide midfielders in the last match against Cuba, but has since worked hard to get them to recover into defensive positions.

He said that will be especially important when they meet the United States in the opening game on January 12.

The coach added they also have to formulate some tactical manoeuvres against the Americans, particularly to contain New York/New Jersey Metrostars striker Freddy Adu, their most influential player.

What is needed as well is for the young T&T footballers to have a favourable response to weather which may be much colder than they are accustomed to.