Fri, Jul

If coach Leo Beenhakker's pre-match build-up is anything to go by, then Stern John and Dwight Yorke are very likely to start up front for Trinidad and Tobago in today's CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Panama at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

The teams meet at 6.30 p.m. in what to date may be the single most crucial game of the qualifying campaign for both countries, who occupy the bottom two positions in the six-team CONCACAF standings.

Trinidad and Tobago, especially, need something from this home match, before flying off on Monday for another very important game against Mexico on Wednesday, which represents the Warriors' first overseas assignment under Dutchman Beenhakker.

National team manager Bruce Aanensen said this is a match that Trinidad and Tobago must win and is expecting at least a 2-0 victory, adding that Beenhakker is very satisfied with his charges.

"I think he (Beenhakker) is greatly satisfied, given the time he had to work with," said Aanensen. "He would have liked to have a week more, but he is generally pleased with the improvement the team has shown in the last two weeks. He has been able to do all he wanted given the time he had."

Today, hosts Trinidad and Tobago are likely to wear their traditional red strip, with the Panamanians likely to come out with their second strip of mainly white, with red and blue trimming.

A $100 entrance fee to the uncovered stands and double ($200) that for those entering the covered section of the stadium should not prevent a big crowd turning out to see what improvement the Warriors have made since Beenhakker officially took over from Bertille St Clair on May 1.

In the build-up to today's match, the coach paid special attention to former English Premier League strikers Yorke and John, using props to presumably demonstrate the positioning he would like to see them in relative to each other. Even during a final scrimmage between his players on Thursday, Beenhakker played the strikers together and while Yorke looked accomplished in his finishing, John was also fairly sharp after struggling to find his goal-scoring touch in two recent warm-ups against Bermuda.

Earlier, Beenhakker had Yorke and John working on corner-kicks, along with defenders Marvin Andrews and Dennis Lawrence.

Newcomer Christopher Birchall seems to be the designated dead ball specialist now that Angus Eve is no longer in the team. Under instructions from assistant coach Wim Rijserbergen, and later Beenhakker, Port Vale's Birchall put in several variations of the corner kick, following the guidance of the Dutch coaches who wanted the ball to be dropped in certain areas.

Beenhakker also had John and Yorke working on penalty kicks as well.

While the four big men concentrated on giving T&T an aerial threat, the rest of the team worked on passing and ball movement.

The Dutchman's build-up seems to indicate his plans also include Carlos Edwards, Aurtis Whitley, Avery John, Atiba Charles, Lawrence, Birchall, Andrews and goalkeeper Clayton Ince.

The one position that seems still up for grabs could be left midfield, where Leslie Fitzpatrick may just get the nod. Beenhakker, though, was not expected to name his final 18 until having a final look at his players at last night's training session at the HC Stadium.

The game is almost a must-win one for both teams. Panama have not won in their last six matches, but in this final round of qualifying, they have had home draws with Guatemala (0-0) and Mexico (1-1), while going down 2-1 away to Costa Rica.

Trinidad and Tobago's lone point came from a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica last time out, while they also lost 2-1 to the United States at home and 5-1 away to Guatemala.

History favours Trinidad and Tobago, who have won twice and drawn two of the four meetings against Panama.

The Panamanians arrived in Trinidad on Thursday night and are staying at the Marriott Hotel, just outside the Stadium. They had their first look at the Hasely Crawford Stadium yesterday afternoon when they held a training session under overcast conditions.

The visitors are coming off a 1-1 draw with Venezuela in a friendly international on May 25 at the Estadio "Olimpico" Caracas. A crowd of 15,000 saw Giancarlo Maldonado open the scoring for Venezuela in the fourth minute, but Roberto Brown notched the equaliser for the "Canaleros" 30 minutes later. The draw was Panama's sixth consecutive game without a victory, with the last success coming on February 19 against El Salvador (1-0) in Guatemala City.