Thu, May

Trinidad and Tobago Head Coach Angus Eve shouts instructions from the sidelines during an International Friendly against Jamaica at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on March 1st 2024.

At least on this occasion the big game is not at the end of the year.

From highway robbery in Port au Prince in 1973 to the massive let-down in Port of Spain in 1989. From unrestrained delight of an historic triumph in Bahrain in 2005 to the anguish of the women falling short at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in 2014, these monumental football moments for the nation cropped up in November or December.

Obviously it reflects the scheduling of World Cup qualification heading into the tournament proper the following year. This time though it’s not that very grandest of football stages, although getting to the Copa America in June in the United States could have a similar impact on the national team and individual players…if they can get past Canada in a one-off showdown in Texas on Saturday.

Edged out by Jamaica in a home-and-away playoff four months ago in what was a shock to the North Americans, the Canadians start the game as favourites, although it is left to be seen how they cope with the pressure of that expectation given that they are now experiencing their version of a footballing “golden generation,” ending a 36-year drought in appearing at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar and are joint-hosts— together with the United States and Mexico—of the bloated 48-nation event in 2026.

Already head coach Angus Eve has referenced the oft-repeated “David versus Goliath” comparison ahead of this encounter, which is an interesting analogy given that David slew Goliath. So the former national player, who has already achieved more in this role than most would have expected, therefore expects to conquer their fancied opponents.

Which member of the squad will be the figurative jawbone of an ass to get the job done in Frisco is anyone’s guess, although the coach will have his own plans in pursuit of a victory that, if achieved, will elevate Trinidad and Tobago to a platform the likes of which they have not enjoyed since that heady fortnight in June, 2006 when Dwight Yorke led the twin-island republic to its first, and so far only, senior men’s World Cup finals where they famously drew with Sweden, held England goalless for 84 minutes before going down 2-0 and then lost their final group game by a similar scoreline to Paraguay.

Reward for victory on Saturday is a duel with World Cup-holders Argentina in the opening game of the 2024 Copa America in Atlanta on June 20, followed by other group games against Peru and Chile. Even if they weren’t to get any further in that continental tournament, the boost for the local game, financially and otherwise, not to mention players also putting themselves in the shop window for a lucrative deal with a prominent club, all translate into a single game which is arguably the most important for Trinidad and Tobago men’s football since that 1-0 victory in Manama courtesy of Dennis Lawrence’s second-half header.

Unfortunately, the memory of that 2006 experience is tainted by the scandal which followed with players demanding a fairer share of revenue, being blacklisted and so on and so on. We seem to have an insatiable appetite for bacchanal and corruption of one form or the other when these big footballing occasions come around, as the aftermath of November 19, 1989 and indeed, the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final duel with Canada 24 years ago confirm. Then, in the aftermath of a 1-0 loss, head coach Bertille St Clair was fired.

His crime? Not winning the Gold Cup, even though Trinidad and Tobago had never reached the semi-finals previously. And the personality at the centre of it all, as it was in 2006 and 1989? Jack Warner. We really never learn.

Mercifully, there hasn’t been anything emanating from the national squad or the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association to compare with those convulsions, at least not yet. Five days is a long time in the nation’s premier pastime, but it would be a welcome experience to focus on the football itself before, during and especially after Saturday’s pivotal encounter.

We need a serious dose of positivity from our football, given the convoluted mess that the never-ending 2023 into 2024 Secondary Schools Football League season as become.

At least the senior national cricketers brought a smile to faces with victory over the Windwards Volcanoes at the Queen’s Park Oval this past week in a match soured by poor umpiring.

If nothing else, it was a momentary distraction from the disgraceful conduct of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board executive which, in getting rid of its whistleblowing treasurer, confirmed the absence of any moral or ethical compass.

Sport can uplift and deflate in equal measure. We can only hope the footballers, win or lose, do us proud on Saturday.

SOURCE: T&T Express