Sun, Jul

Shabazz: Montserrat will not be easy opponents.

It's not usually familiar for T&T footballers to dwell on low-ranking regional opponents, but it seems obvious now, with Montserrat in the path of the CONCACAF Gold Cup qualification.

Jamaal Shabazz, the T&T football coach who has had stints in charge of the Guyanese and St Lucia national teams, and is equipped with first-hand knowledge of the Montserratian team, having had mixed results against them as the St Lucia coach in the CONCACAF Nations League in recent times, is urging new national coach Angus Eve and the public to not take Montserrat for granted.

The Montserratian team appears to be no push-over team with some 18 to 20 of its players plying their trade in the lower Leagues in England and the UK, such as centre defender Donervon Daniels at Crewe Alexandra, centre forward Lyle Taylor at Nottingham Forrest, defensive midfielders James Comley and Rohan Ince representing Maidenhead United, and Brandon Comley at Bolton Wanderers, among many others.

Ranked 180th on the FIFA rankings, the regional team held the Shabazz-led St Lucians to a 1-1 tie, as well as defeated them 1-0 in the CONCACAF Nations League last year. They were also highly competitive against Central American opponents El Salvador in the same competition.

Shabazz told Guardian Media Sports on Friday that: "First of all, they would be a formidable opponent for T&T, and we must not believe that they are just Montserrat, a small island that was ravaged by a hurricane. In the last three years alone they have emerged as a very challenging opponent, not just in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) but in the CONCACAF. They have had good match-ups against teams like El Salvador and other Central American and Caribbean opponents."

He explained that: "Montserrat has at least 20 players in the squad who play in the lower leagues in England and the UK, and that alone makes them a huge challenge. They are very organised defensively and they are tactically disciplined, similar to what we've seen in Puerto Rico. However, given the talent that's available to T&T, while it might be a tough encounter, we're very capable of getting the desired result against them."

T&T wounded from their failure to advance past the first round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, the Soca Warriors have since replaced its coach Terry Fenwick with Angus Eve, as the team need to get past the Montserratians on July 2 if T&T is to progress to the next round of the qualifiers where the twin island Republic will face either Cuba or French Guiana on July 6.

Guardian Media Sports was reliable informed that Eve selected a provisional squad of 60 players which also highlights a welcome return of Columbus Crew midfielder Kevin Molino, who missed the country's four qualifying matches of the World Cup due to injury.

Without Molino, Shabazz believes the team already has a diverse collection of midfielders who can get the job done, as he pointed to Duane Muckette, the scorer of one of the two goals against St Kitts & Nevis on June 8, along with Neveal Hackshaw and Kevan George. However, he called on Eve to not be burdened by the challenge ahead of him and to do what he thinks is necessary to get the result.

"I think Eve got to trust himself and his own judgement because he got the job based on something that the Normalisation Committee believes he can bring to the table. When you're in a position like that, self-belief is the most important thing," Shabazz advised.