Tue, Jun

Trinidad and Tobago, in front of thousands of anxious supporters, executed a seamless baton exchange near the finish at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain. It was not Emmanuel Callender to Richard Thompson, en route to a historic 4 x 100 metre 2008 Olympic Games silver medal, but rather national football captain Dwight Yorke to the young man who already has an eye for his number 19 shirt.
Keon Daniel controlled Yorke's square pass and pushed the ball a foot ahead of him in one motion. His second touch sent the sphere flying past Guatemala goalkeeper Luis Molina and into the back of the net off the underside of the bar. It was Daniel's third World Cup goal-just four matches into his maiden campaign-and already brings his tally level with former luminaries like Hall of Famer Everald "Gally" Cummings and ex-European-based stars Leonson Lewis and Jerren Nixon.
Daniel, with all due respect to the three aforementioned stars, hopes to follow the footsteps of someone else entirely.
The "Soca Warriors" sported jerseys numbered one to 18 for Saturday's 2010 World Cup qualifier but 19 holds a special place in the heart of two squad members.

Yorke was assigned the number 19 when he joined England Premier League giants, Manchester United, for a then club record and went on to win the European Champions League and the domestic league and FA Cup titles with the shirt. He moved on after three seasons but, whenever possible, sticks by that number.

Daniel, who-like Yorke-was born on the sister isle of Tobago and came to national prominence with Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive, has his reasons too.

"I (usually) wear 19 because of the other Tobagonian player in the team," said the United Petrotrin playmaker, after Saturday's fixture. "He is the greatest ever and I decided to take up the mantle."

Tobago is well represented within the Warriors' ranks at present. Cyd Gray played at right back while defender Makan Hislop would have surely started but for suspension. But only one of those men could be reasonably described as "the greatest".
At 36, Yorke is a shadow of the player who once made Europe tremble. The smooth acceleration and timely sprints into space are rare sights now although his technique and poise remain and are enough to secure his place with Premiership outfit, Sunderland, and the national side.

But it was the 21-year-old Daniel, his would-be successor, who stole the show on Saturday. As a national youth player, Daniel's teammates gave him the nickname "Skill-achi" for his clever control and ability to create room in cramped spaces on the field. But Colombian coach Francisco Maturana deserves credit for coaxing the obvious potential out of the soft-spoken youth at senior level.

Daniel was on the fringes of the local squad when Maturana took over and, after barely a handful of training sessions, brought him into his 18-man squad. He did feature for former coach Wim Rijsbergen against a Mexican under-23 squad but his full international debut came under Maturana as a late substitute in a goalless draw with Guadeloupe on Ash Wednesday.

A month later, Daniel played from the start in a friendly against El Salvador at Macoya and scored the game's only goal with a superb free kick from the edge of the penalty area. And, when Scotland-based attacker Collin Samuel failed to show up for next friendly international away to Jamaica, the spider-legged midfielder became the automatic first choice on the left flank.

It did not always seem an inspired choice. Daniel, who prefers the intricacies of central midfield, seemed shy in committing opposing full backs initially and contributed mainly through his measured delivery on set pieces. But, when the Warriors most needed inspiration, he was ready.

In Bermuda, he created goals for Darryl Roberts and Stern John as Trinidad and Tobago overturned a 2-1 first leg deficit to squeeze into the semi-final stage. And, in Cuba, Daniel cracked in his first goal off the far post before curling home the second with a free kick as the Warriors went on to triumph 3-1.

On the weekend, Port of Spain witnessed Daniel's burgeoning talent as he floated imperiously around the midfield that he shared, for the first time in his career, with his idol, Yorke. The pair saved their best double act for the 85th minute.

Cornell Glen and Andre Toussaint looked to have been illegally muscled to the ground on the edge of the Guatemalan area but Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno waved play on as the ball broke for Yorke. The Sunderland star spotted an interested Daniel at the corner of his eye and, without hesitation, rolled the ball in his path. Daniel's thumping finish crowned his finest international showing yet on home soil.

"I am growing from strength to strength," he told the Express. "I feel like I am getting better with every game."
There are some big boots to fill tomorrow as the Warriors face CONCACAF bigwigs, the United States, without Yorke, who was ordered to return to England by Sunderland boss Roy Keane. Daniel can hardly wait for the opening whistle.