Part II – 1989 Concacaf Championships
DUBBED the “Strike Squad” during the qualifying campaign, this looked to be T&T’s best chance to go to Italia ‘90, featuring players such as Anton Corneal, Hutson Charles, Dexter Skeene, and two “little-known” youngsters, Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke. The Strike Squad beat Guyana 5-0 on aggregate to qualify for the championships. The top two teams from the final round would go on to the World Cup.
T&T drew their first match against the USA in Torrence California thanks to an 88th minute goal by Hutson Charles. The next game against Costa Rica came down to the wire again for the Strike Squad. Charles sends a cross into the box. A Trinidadian player gets a head on to it but it was deflected by the Costa Rican keeper but Philbert Jones (uncle of retired T&T captain Kenwyne Jones) corrals the ball and puts the ball in the back of the net to gain another point for the T&T cause. Costa Rica would come back the following month to beat T&T 1-0 who would later rebound with a 2-0 win again El Salvador thanks to a double from Leonson Lewis in front of a packed National Stadium. Both goals off corners. Lewis gathered a headed ball and struck it past the keeper. The other Lewis headed himself towards the back of the net.
The Strike Squad would go into El Salvador and come out with a draw then won two straight games against Guatemala. The first win came in Guatemala City with a 57th minute goal from Kerry Jamerson from outside the box. The second was at home in Port-of Spain where Philbert Jones would equalise thanks to a well placed ground cross in the six-yard box from Charles. The game would remain tied until the 88th minute when after a free kick was taken out of the box, a ball was lined up outside of the box and Kerry Jamerson just shot it like a gun to the bottom-left corner of the goal, to pick up three more crucial points. This put T&T at second place in the table ahead of the US who would go on to draw two of their next three games.
The game: T&T vs United States. The venue: National Stadium in Port-of-Spain. The date: November 19, 1989 – "Red Day". The stakes: one team goes on with Costa Rica as a representative of Concacaf in Italia 90. The other team, watches on the couch. A win or draw for the Strike Squad gets them to the World Cup. America has to win, period.
In the 30th minute, in front of a "Sea of Red", American defensive midfielder Paul David Caligiuri receives a pass from Bruce Murray, cuts right to avoid his man, fires from outside the box with a left-footed shot that gets past goalkeeper Michael Maurice, the only goal of the game. The Strike Squad went full on attack in the second half but it was to no avail. “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” would once again keep T&T out of the World Cup. The spectators of Trinidad and Tobago were awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1989 for good behaviour at the game, despite the heart-breaking loss and overcrowded stadium.
The Gold Cup Era
In 1991, Concacaf would create what we know today as the Gold Cup, with it’s round-robin group stage and subsequent knock-out rounds. In the competition's first four editions, T&T would fail to make it out of the group stages, with only two wins in that span and did not making the Gold Cup in 1993. At the turn of the millenium, T&T would go on to advance further in the Gold Cup than they have before and to date.
Finishing runners-up to Jamaica in the Caribbean Cup allowed T&T to qualify for the 2000 Gold Cup. Apart from Concacaf members, Colombia, Peru and South Korea were invited to participate in the competition as well. In Group C, T&T would suffer a hard defeat against Concacaf powerhouse Mexico but would later advance out of the group with a 4-2 victory against Guatemala with goal contributions from the likes of Latapy, Dwarika, Yorke and David Nakhid.
They met Costa Rica in the quarterfinals where Arnold Dwarika would open up the scoring in the 26th minute, and held off the charge from Los Ticos until star striker Paulo Wanchope score the equalizer at the 89th minute. But early in extra time, substitute Mickey Trotman would score the golden goal in the 92nd minute to propel Trinidad and Tobago to the semi-finals for the first time in their Gold Cup history. They would go on to lose 1-0 to Canada in the semi-final who would later shock Colombia to win their first Gold Cup and their first major football trophy since 1985. T&T would feature 3 players in the Gold Cup Best XI: Russell Latapy, Arnold Dwarika and Dwight Yorke.
After 2000, Trinidad and Tobago would see little success in the competition to come. In 2002, they didn’t make it out of the group stage. They missed the Gold Cup in 2003. Even the Gold Cups that bookended their 2006 World Cup appearance (2005 and 2007), the Soca Warriors failed to register wins and would finish last in their respective groups. They would go on to miss the next two Gold Cups in 2009 and 2011.
AFTER four years and missing the last two iterations, T&T will be making their return to the Concacaf Gold Cup for the tenth time in our football history.
The last time T&T competed in the biennial event, they played like one of the better teams in the tournament, took on one of the giants of Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), played arguably one of the greatest games in Gold Cup history and was later sent home on penalties in a game they believed they should have won.
With a change in the qualification process through FIFA’s addition of the Nations League, T&T were able to qualify directly to the Gold Cup through participating in the FIFA World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal. Our group consists of perennial favorites USA, Panama who knocked us out back in 2015 and Gold Cup debutants Guyana.
For those who don’t know, the Gold Cup is Concacaf’s continental football tournament that is held every two years. Think of it as the Americas’ version of the European Championships or Africa’s Cup of Nations. From 1973 to 1989, the tournament was the gateway to the World Cup for Concacaf teams. From 1991 to 2017 the winner would represent the confederation in the now defunct FIFA Confederations Cup. As the Gold Cup, this would be TT’s tenth, but they have been active in 15 iterations of Concacaf’s continental tournament.
T&T first took part in what was then known as the Concacaf Championships in 1967. Also referred to as the NORCECA Championships, this would be T&T’s first crack in the tournament after not entering the inaugural tournament in 1963 and withdrawing from the second tournament due to scheduling conflicts with World Cup qualifying for the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England.
Ten teams participated in the qualification stage in two groups. T&T would qualify through one of the group stages that was hosted in Jamaica under the title of the Red Stripe Trophy, finishing second in the group. T&T were one of the six teams that played in a round-robin style final tournament that saw Guatemala win their only Gold Cup. T&T finished fourth in the table with two wins and three losses, scoring six goals that came from players such as Alvin Corneal, Gerry Brown, Kelvin Berassa, Warren “Laga” Archibald and Pat Small.
After a fifth place showing in 1969, T&T would later host the fifth edition of the Concacaf Championships in 1971. Fixtures were played in the Queen’s Park Oval and – at the time – King George V Park in Port-of-Spain, the Arima Velodrome and Skinner Park in San Fernando. T&T didn’t play to the level the home fans expected however. After a 1-1 draw in their first game against Honduras, they would go on to lose 2 of their next three three games, including a 6-0 drubbing against Haiti. The third was a 2-2 draw against Cuba. After rounding out the competition with a 3-1 win against Costa Rica, T&T would finish fifth in their home tournament, with Mexico winning the tournament for the second time.
The 1973 Concacaf Championships
T&T would bounce back in 1973 when Haiti hosted the tournament for the first time. After winning their qualifying group that featured an 11-1 beatdown of Antigua and Barbuda, with hat-tricks from Steve David and Noel “Sammy” Llewellyn, T&T looked like one of the teams to beat in a final round that featured host nation Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the Netherlands Antilles. Qualification for the 1974 World Cup was also on the line for the winner; the first time the competition would double as a World Cup qualifier. The nickname “el Hexagonal” was also used for the first time, even though six teams in the final round was the usual number of participants since 1965.
The 1973 Concacaf Championships were mired in controversy. T&T would play Haiti on December 4, 1973. T&T were looking to rebound after losing the opening game against Honduras, and Haiti would be riding momentum from a 3-0 win over the Netherland Antilles three days prior. The game would go on to favor Haiti in a 2-1 win butas El Salvador referee Jose Roberto Henriquez disallowed five T&T goals (three goals in 20 minutes) in what looked like a one-sided affair. Together Henriquez and Canadian linesman James Higuet were banned for life by FIFA after the tournament. They would finish the tournament strong however, rattling off four straight victories, including our best victory against Mexico featuring goals from David who would go on to lead the tournament with seven goals, Archibald and Everald “Gally” Cummings. T&T would place second, their best ever finish in a Concacaf tournament.
They finished two points shy to Haiti, leaving T&T fans feeling cheated at an opportunity at seeing their nation qualify for the World Cup for the first time in the nation’s history. After not qualifying for the next two tournaments and not making it out of the group stage in 1985, T&T would have another opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, in 1989.
(To be continued)