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Anton CornealTECHNICAL DIRECTOR of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), Anton Corneal, has urged the Trinidad and Tobago Under-23 players to work harder and sacrifice if they want to make the transition into national team football for the 2012 Caribbean Cup.

Following the Under-23s failure in their recent Olympic qualifying campaign, Corneal expressed optimism that the younger players could become permanent fixtures with the “Soca Warriors”.

He affirmed that this could happen only if they dedicate themselves to training with a disciplined regime.

“We want the best (players) out of the recent Under-23 batch to step up to the senior football team. Some of them are already playing at this level and we want them gelling with the other experienced senior players.

Some of these experienced players are around 25 or 26 years of age so we are keeping the average age of the senior team relatively young for progression. The senior squad is now focusing on the Caribbean Cup so we must keep our heads on,” he admitted.

The national team is hoping to face Panama in a forthcoming friendly match as they gear for their Caribbean Cup preliminary group stage from September 24-28.

The “Soca Warriors” is grouped with Anguilla, St. Martine and hosts, St. Kitts/Nevis.

Six group winners and the runners-up will join Cuba and hosts, Grenada and Guadeloupe, in the second round from October 20-24. The 2012 Caribbean Cup Finals will occur in Antigua and Barbuda from December 1-16 with defending champions, Jamaica, already awaiting the opposition.

With training for this Cup set to commence, it was revealed that efforts are also being made for the ‘Soca Warriors’ to play an African team in Port-of- Spain to celebrate TT’s 50th Independence anniversary.

Corneal believes that this exposure along with the experience in playing international, top-quality opposition will benefit the youngsters in their future aspirations.

“We need to tailor this exposure and groom the younger players so that when the senior team plays, overall, it’s smooth,” he continued.

He shared that such a transition would not be seamless for the Under-23s.

“These players need to improve as individuals and must work hard to do so. Then we can improve as a team and go forward. Planning and execution must be proper for us to compete at the highest level,” Corneal stated.

He expressed hope that finances would be strengthened so that interim and caretaker positions with the national and youth football setup can be fortified.

He added that Olympic qualifiers should not be judged harshly as group- mates Mexico and Honduras were the two best teams in the recent CONCACAF championships.

Corneal revealed that the Under-23 performances were not under conducive conditions but believed that the tournament was filled with positives for the youngsters.

“Playing against teams with fast-styles make a more competitive nature. Our players learnt a lot to take into the future matches. It aids in the step-up to senior duty,” he concluded.