Trinidad & Tobago

Population: 1,090,000
Area: 5,128 km²
Capital: Port-of-Spain
Language: English

Trinidad & Tobago came fourth in CONCACAF's final hexagonal round. They were forced to play off against Bahrain from Asia for a spot in Germany and prevailed.
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Feb 28 Iceland v Trinidad & T. 0-2
May 11 Trinidad & T. v Peru 1-1
May 27 Wales v Trinidad & T. 2-1
May 31 Slovenia v Trinidad & T. 3-1
Jun 03 Czech Rep v Trinidad & T. 3-0

Participated: None
Best placing: None
Topscorer: None

Jun 10 - TRI v SWE  in Dortmund
Jun 15 - TRI v ENG  in Nuremberg
Jun 20 - TRI v PAR  in Kaiserslautern

- Trinidad & Tobago in Group B -
Jan Alsos: 4th place
Pierre Boisrond: 4th place
Ruud Doevendans: 4th place
Mike Gibbons: 4th place
Peter Goldstein: 4th place
Paul Marcuccitti: 4th place
Felipe Santos: 4th place
PREDICTION: First round exit


by Peter Goldstein

    Although this is Trinidad & Tobago's first appearance at the World Cup, we know exactly what to expect. A Caribbean team with a dance-inspired nickname? A team that plays at Hasely Crawford Stadium, no less? They're fast, individualistic, undisciplined; they flash and dash; if you score two, they score three, and they don't need Eric Cantona to tell them to play beautiful. Right?

    Wrong. Under Dutch master Leo Beenhakker, the Soca Warriors are the exact opposite of the stereotype. Not much flair, not much spectacle. They don't press, they don't gamble, they don't improvise. They take their time, build slowly through midfield, emphasize sound technique and discipline. Oh, and they get results. Before Beenhakker arrived during the CONCACAF Hexagonal, they had as much chance of qualifying as Malta. But with the Dutchman in charge, they won four out of seven games, coming from behind to win twice, including the make-or-break finale against Mexico. In the playoff, after drawing at home against Bahrain, they flew to the Middle East and won on the road. They're patient, intelligent, and resourceful, and let their fans provide the carnival.

    Typical of the squad is the probable starting keeper, Premiership veteran Shaka Hislop (West Ham United). In his prime he was a spectacular shot-stopper; now, at 37, he does the job primarily on reading and positioning. In contrast, the starter during the qualifiers was Kelvin Jack (Dundee FC), and "carnival" doesn't even begin to describe him. One minute he makes an impossible save; the next he looks like he has no idea how to play the position. Unfortunately for World Cup fans (but fortunately for Beenhakker's mental health), he's now out with tendonitis and is questionable for the tournament. Clayton Ince (Coventry City), the main man during the 2002 qualifiers, might get a chance if Hislop falters, and Tony Warner (Fulham) is in the frame as well.

    The back four have been uneven, and how well they hold up may be the key to T&T's success. The twin towers at centerback are Marvin Andrews (Rangers) and Dennis Lawrence (Wrexham). They're both tall (Lawrence is 6 foot 7--fully 2 meters!), both very good in the air, but not particularly quick. Andrews is the aggressive one, a hard tackler and formidable header. Lawrence is quiet, composed, more technical in approach. During the qualifiers both were subject to occasional mental errors, and they won't be able to get away with that in Germany. The fullbacks have pace and some skill, but they too aren't always letter perfect. Cyd Gray (San Juan Jabloteh) on the right is a particularly rough diamond, very athletic but still learning how to mark. Avery John (New England) on the left is smoother and a bit more consistent. They both can get forward to help the attack, but against difficult opposition they're likely to be held back a bit.

    After experimenting with several different formations, Beenhakker appears to have settled on a 4-2-3-1. In the double pivot are Chris Birchall (Port Vale) and Aurtis Whitley (San Juan Jabloteh), contrasting players who complement each other well. Birchall is your classic water-carrier, a hard worker with solid technique, who can go box-to-box if necessary. Or rather, just short of box-to-box: he usually pulls up around 25 yards out to unleash his world-class rising shot. Whitley is a bit stronger physically and better technically; a playmaker at club level, he can dribble his man and feed attacking teammates. In keeping with the patient approach, both men pick their spots to move forward.

    The left side of midfield has been a problem area for some time; after a fine performance in a friendly against Iceland, Collin Samuel (Dundee United) appears to have the edge. He's a born winger, pacy, who goes at his man and can send in the cross. But he's been on the fringes of the team for a while, and has yet to do the job consistently. For that we go to the other side of the field and Carlos Edwards (Luton). He's a reliable performer, another natural wing player: some pace, good on the dribble and the cross. His form will be crucial in spreading the attack wide.

    That leaves the playmaker, who is none other than Dwight Yorke (Sydney FC). Leave it to Dwight to grab the headlines, but this time it's a genuinely compelling story. The wild man is now a solid citizen (on the field at least), the flamboyant striker is now a hardworking midfielder. He looks comfortable in the role, roaming the pitch, holding the ball where necessary, controlling the slow tempo. If you want to know how T&T are doing, just watch Yorke: the deeper he drops, the more they're struggling. When the offense is clicking, he's in an advanced role, looking to send the wingers or the point man through.

    We haven't mentioned Russell Latapy (Falkirk) yet, but we should. Known as "The Little Magician," he's the greatest midfielder in T&T history. He's the one guy on the team with the true Caribbean flair: outrageous spins, dribbles, passes, goals too. He's also 37. He returned to the side for the final four games of the Hexagonal, and was vital in pushing them over the top, but it's doubtful he'll make a big difference in Germany. Against physical, hard-running sides like Sweden and England, his game is too slow and indirect. It's his bad luck, too, that Paraguay is the most European of the Latin American sides. But Latapy should at least see some time off the bench; if he does start, it'll be on the left side in Samuel's spot.

    In the usual setup, the lone striker is Stern John (Coventry City). He's a familiar name to fans of English football, having bounced around the top two divisions with varying degrees of success. But I'll bet you didn't know this: as of April 1, 2006, he's the all-time ninth leading scorer in international football history. Sixty-four goals for T&T. In recent years he's become wildly streaky, missing sitters one minute, scoring remarkable goals the next. The point position suits him well, because he's a natural centerforward: not too fast, good in the air and back to goal, with sound technique. He doesn't make the goals himself, but when he gets service, he can score at any time. Over three games we should also see something of Kenwyne Jones (Southampton). He's a converted wingback, tall, agile, and powerful, inconsistent with the ball at his feet, but with good vision. If Beenhakker feels he needs a second striker, Jones will partner John. For late-game pace, Cornell Glen (LA Galaxy) is a good option.

    Trinidad & Tobago are the longest shot in the field, and reasonably so. The players mostly toil for unfancied clubs in England and Scotland. CONCACAF has never gone four-deep at the World Cup, and Group B is pretty tough. Only diehard Soca Warriors fans--and they're a passionate bunch--are expecting the team to make the second round. But either way T&T are unlikely to be embarrassed. Even when they're behind, they play calmly and cohesively, and anyone expecting them to fold under pressure is thinking about some other team. The big if is the back line; if they can avoid mistakes, T&T will stay close all the way. And when you stay close, sometimes you win...




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