SOME of us had been waiting on what happened last Monday night for 34 years and a day.
Not many who were at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, then the National Stadium, on Sunday, November 19, 1989, would have made it to the Ato Boldon Stadium on a rainy midweek night in October 2017, when Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors registered a rare victory and put the hurt on the United States, thus ending their well-laid plans of qualifying for the 2018 Russia World Cup.
In an ironic twist, T&T proved that revenge really is a dish best served cold and denied Uncle Sam’s men getting to the Copa Mundial 28 years after the Americans had done the same thing to us on the Road to Italy 1990, when coach Gally Cummings and the Strike Squad needed a solitary point to confirm this country’s first-ever appearance at football’s greatest show, but lost 1-0.
We got no reward for derailing them six years ago, then languishing in the lower half of the six-team qualifying group with no chance of getting to Russia, so it was a sort of bittersweet feeling, more sweet than bitter, but we weren’t getting ahead of them in the standings and going anywhere with their demise.
To beat the mighty USA, though, was special and those fortunate local souls who made the trip to Couva back then could tell their grandchildren about that night’s supreme upset, which will haunt the Red, White and Blue for years to come.
They’ve asserted their superiority since then, with fistfuls of goals in CONCACAF Gold Cup encounters and now in the Nations League quarter-finals they came here with a three-goal advantage that would be hard to overturn. But we live in hope. Well, maybe not everyone.
Just on the way to the game Monday, twice I heard the question: “How much you think we go get tonight?”
The first time I started to answer “maybe two” but stopped, preferring to think positive for once, then didn’t respond on the second occasion and headed into the venue with blind optimism that the ghosts of 1989 would be laid to rest.
Of course, there wasn’t a packed, or rather oversold, house like it was way back when but, with more than 9,000 fans in attendance, there was the usual boisterous atmosphere in the stadium on an international football night in Port of Spain.
The eastern side of the ground was awash with red, and flags both big and small, and this time the rhythm section from Fyzabad, One Love One Song, had moved down in front there from their usual spot on the north-western corner. And they didn’t miss a beat.
It didn’t take long for all that enthusiasm to be tempered, though, when Antonee Robinson popped up in the area and put the visitors ahead in the 25th minute.
And someone said the stadium was quiet like it was in Ahmedabad last Sunday when hosts India lost their only game of the 2023 Cricket World Cup.
But it’s never still for long in Trinidad and the band was soon back up and running and soon after, on the other side, there was Sergino Dest kicking the ball far away in disgust over a call by the referee and drawing a yellow card... then there was another card and he was off, taking a long walk behind his goal and down the side to the dressing room, accompanied by a chorus of boos.
“Now they dead!” a voice shouted a few rows back and, sure enough, just four minutes later, Reon Moore went sprinting up the right side and banged the ball past a rather ineffectual Matt Turner in the US goal for the equaliser.
That was delightful. And there were smiles and high fives all around and the previous disjointed attempts at a Mexican wave soon came together as we awaited more goals.
There was only one more to come—from a free kick just outside the area by Alvin Jones, which Turner could also have done better with—but it was all we needed to earn the victory that now middle-aged people like me had not seen often enough over the years, at least not live and alive in the HC Stadium, the scene of all those tears that fateful Sunday afternoon in ’89, when overconfidence might have been our main downfall.
There’s a whole new generation of players now, including the likes of goalkeeper Denzil Smith and striker Nathaniel James, coached by the effervescent Angus Eve, and they can only get better with games like these, showing their mettle in the previous Nations League home match against Guatemala to fight back from two goals down to earn a 3-2 win.
So while the USA marches onto the 2024 Copa America, all is not lost for T&T with a one-off qualifier against Canada to look forward to in Texas next March to try to join the big guns in that illustrious tournament.
Hopefully, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association can find a few useful opponents to warm up against in preparation for that crucial clash with the Canadians.
In the meantime, we can all savour this latest triumph against T&T’s arch-rival, as some of us did after the game not far from the stadium, with the beers flowing long into the night on Ariapita Avenue.
Cheers to the Red, White and Black!
SOURCE: T&T Express