“It’s a massive game … more like judgment day for us in terms of the World Cup.”
That’s how Coventry City striker Stern John described the upcoming June 4 World Cup qualifier against Panama as he gulped down a couple Cold water-filled Coconuts with teammates following Friday morning’s training session at the Larry Gomes Stadium training pitch.
John and his teammates sweated it out at the same time TTFF bosses spearheaded by Special Advisor Jack Warner were meeting with TSTT officials to launch a Text Message initiative to raise funds for the “Warriors.” Ian Thrush, Vice President of Marketing for TSTT revealed that the TSTT is attempting to raise over TT$1 million per match over the next seven qualifying matches in hope of totaling TT$9 million which will go towards the team’s “Journey to Germany” campaign. Fans are being encouraged to text the message “Go Team” to the number 4625 with each message costing TT$1. Once each fan sends the message twice per game, it will raise $1 million and nine million over the seven games, according to Thrush. Warner praised the initiative, adding that the campaign would cost close to TT$21 million.
Back up at the Larry Gomes Stadium, John got his first full session under head coach Leo Beenhakker after previously taking a run out on the morning of the friendly with Alianza Lima last Wednesday.
The former Birmingham City man arrived home last Tuesday but was not in the squad for the live-in camp after requesting a short-time off which Beenhakker only just allowed. But now John was running hard with the rest of the “Warriors” as Beenhakker put them through their paces under the sweltering heat. With the exception of the local-based pros involved in Friday’s Pro Bowl action and the US-based pros who returned to their clubs for action on Saturday, the rest of players were involved as the Dutchman conducted a 90-minute session.
Beenhakker was informed that El Salvador had is unable to travel to T&T for Wednesday’s friendly international because of Hurricane Adriane. The TTFF were left seeking other opponents including Paraguay and Norway among other teams without success. Eventually, it was agreed that Bermuda will now face T&T at the HC Stadium from 5:30 pm on Wednesday. Bermuda drew 2-2 with El Salvador in their last World Cup qualifying match in June 2004 and were edged out 4-3 on aggregate.
With confirmation of the new opponent, the likes of Densill Theobald, David Nakhid, Hector Sam, Carlos Edwards, Dennis Lawrence, Kenwyne Jones, Brent Rahim and others were extending themselves during the session as Beenhakker and his assistants stressed on ball possession.
“Keep the ball… get it over, that looks much better now,” Beenhakker’s commanding voice came over. On the other side of the field, de Jong shouted “Don’t point at him if you lose the ball, it’s not about him only, you lose it as a team and you win it back as a team.”
John ended the English Championship League season on a high to finish with 12 goals in 28 matches which helped Coventry avoid relegation. He’s well aware that fans are eager to see him to break his T&T scoring drought with his last goal coming in a 2-1 win over Haiti in February. Out of the last ten matches John has scored in, T&T have won seven dating back to his goal in a 2-1 loss to Egypt last year.
“I know some things have been said about me because I haven’t scored for the country in a while but I don’t want to say too much right now. Just like I did at Coventry coming down the end of the season, I will try and let my football do the talking. In the end my goals helped the club stay up and hopefully from now on my scoring can count in getting the country to the World Cup,” John told TTFF Media. “The coach has already settled in and he has shown good qualities and I think once we stick to instructions and we work hard as a team then we can definitely pull this off starting with a win against Panama. He has stressed that having good players don’t necessary mean we have a good team and the players have this on their minds now which is why I think a lot of effort is being made to make it right. For this next game versus Panama we need a full stadium of red as well,” John added.