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Sat, Jul

Typography
Dundee United attacker Collin Samuel played every minute of Trinidad and Tobago's historic 1-0 2006 World Cup CONCACAF qualifying win away to Bahrain.


He kicked every shot, challenged every header and winced at every tackle. Only Samuel was thousands of miles away from the dry, dusty Arab nation.

Alone in his Falkirk house, Samuel watched the most important football match in Trinidad and Tobago's history on television and tried to imagine what he might have done in each game situation.

He would be crushed to go through that again when T&T take to the football field in Germany next June.

Samuel, who was placed on stand-by for the two-legged encounter with Bahrain, is desperate to reclaim his place in the national team.

"I am delighted that we qualified for the World Cup," said Samuel. "But (from a personal standpoint) I was disappointed that I wasn't involved in Bahrain. Seeing the guys on television celebrating; I just so wanted to be there.

"Right now, I just want to keep myself fit and try and get in the team for Germany."

Samuel has his work cut out. The versatile winger-cum-striker got his first international call-up in two years when coach Leo Beenhakker short-listed him for the July 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup where he was used in all three group matches.

His first World Cup appearance came a month later in the United States. Samuel started at left midfield-an area that Beenhakker has struggled to adequately fill-only to be sacrificed before the interval after defender Dennis Lawrence was ejected.

An untimely injury saw Samuel miss out on a squad place in the subsequent qualifier at home to Guatemala, which marked the international return of 37-year-old playmaker Russell Latapy.

"Sammy" has not had a look in since.

The chance of being forgotten worries him with some justification.

Samuel was just 20-years-old when he marked his international debut under Brazilian coach Rene Simoes with a hattrick against Grenada.

The skilful utility player seemed to have the world at his feet and his move from CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh to Scottish Division One club, Falkirk, later that year appeared to justify the early optimism.

Somewhere between San Juan and Scotland, the former Mayaro Composite schoolboy lost his way.

Now 24, Samuel has done little that screams for his inclusion in Beenhakker's war party.

Simoes used Samuel in T&T's two outings at the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but the Brazilian soon vacated his post. The next three years yielded just seven caps for Samuel-Clayton Morris and Hannibal Najjar used him three times each while Stuart Charles-Fevrier chose him once-before Beenhakker's call.

In the Scottish leagues, his demise was even more shocking. After a prolific debut season with Falkirk, Samuel scored just twice in his first season at Dundee United and not at all in his second term.

Last January, United boss Ian McCall asked him to find a new club and when T&T teammate Jason Scotland was denied a work permit to stay at the Scottish Premier League team, a few fans cruelly suggested that they would happily sacrifice Samuel instead.

It was a psychologically trying period for the 23-year-old immigrant.

All credit to his resolve, Samuel worked tirelessly to turn the tide of negative opinion.

A managerial change offered new hope, and Samuel, who was previously forced to train with the youth team, worked his way back into the United first squad. By the close of the 2004/05 season, he did enough to merit a cameo in the Scottish Cup final in which United were edged out by Celtic.

This term, even the fans are singing his praises and the only debate is where best to utilise the speedy player.

United manager Gordon Chisholme has gotten good returns from Samuel on the wing-a position he filled for his country against the United States-although he looks particularly menacing when used up-front.

He has four goals already this season, including a cracking strike in a 2-2 UEFA Cup draw against Finnish club MyPa 47.

Samuel's game is based on pace, energy and a willingness to take on opposing full backs.

As with most athletes his age, there are still rough areas. His technique can be improved while, like most SPL players, he sometimes misses the subtle passes.

But there is no doubt that he is again heading in the right direction.

"My confidence is on a high right now," he says. "I am a key part of the team and the manager told me he has plans for me in the future once he is still here.

"So I just hope everything goes well for the club, the manager and myself."

He has international aspirations too.

"Playing in the World Cup Finals is every player's dream," says Samuel. "I think I can be involved in the team."

He missed out on Bahrain. He is desperate to make up for it in Germany.