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Soca Warriors need 12th man more now
The footballing gods seem to be playing their own game with T&T’s Soca Warriors in their quest to earn a place in next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Indeed, despite the poor run of form which has seen them lose five of their six Concacaf Zone hexagonal matches, including their latest heart-breaking 2-1 defeat to Costa Rica on Tuesday night, skipper Kenwyne Jones’ side can still determine their own fate in the coming months.
That is because the results of the other matches were again so tight there is now a real jostle for the three automatic spots and play-off berth. At the end of the latest matches, Mexico (14 points), Costa Rica (11) and the United States (8) filled the top three spots, but Panama (7 pts) was in the play-off position and still within touching distance of an automatic berth. Honduras (5 pts) and T&T (3 pts) meanwhile are also still technically in with a chance for at least a play-off berth because of how tight the group has developed.
To revive their campaign, T&T must beat Honduras in their next match at home on September 1 and Panama away four days later. But on the basis of how T&T has performed thus far, granted Cuban referee Yardel Martinez may have denied them a point against the Ticos with an officiating blunder on a penalty call on Tuesday, they will still need a decisive edge for the remaining matches and especially the home games to push for a chance to reach Russia.
The question now is does coach Dennis Lawrence’s men have the fortitude to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and find the drive to qualify from this position? Lawrence has certainly done all he can to stamp his authority since taking over from Tom Saintfiet late last year. He has proven to be a disciplinarian, sending home one of his better players from the United States in recent weeks for breaking the team’s code of conduct as he tries to show the players what professionalism and commitment to the cause is all about. He also seems to be slowly getting the players up to fitness levels desired to perform for the full 90 minutes.
But the Soca Warriors’ main hitch remains on the field of play, where some of the issues which have plagued this country’s game for decades crop up time and again. Stand-in skipper Jan-Michael Williams’ men gave away two soft goals with poor defending in Tuesday’s game. All this while on the other end they certainly had the Costa Ricans on edge with several clear-cut chances created by free flowing attacking play, thanks mostly to Major League Soccer stars Joevin Jones and Kevin Molino, who scored the lone goal. So the Soca Warriors certainly know that if they can clean up their technical and tactical flaws they will be able to match the teams in the upper half of the hexagonal table.
What then will make the difference going ahead? With the major leagues across the world now on a break, now may be the opportune time for Lawrence to get in much needed work to get his team to gel better. This, however, requires friendly matches, something which the financially challenged T&T Football Association (TTFA) has been incapable of affording the team throughout these qualifiers.
This is where corporate T&T, Government and the public must step in to fill the void. Those of us still able to recall the dizzying celebrations of the Soca Warriors’ qualification for Germany 2016, will all be fully aware of the fact that several parties —among them Government, corporate T&T and the public—played some role in that success. Most would also be fully aware of the euphoria that qualification brought to the country as a whole. And on the basis of some of the most recent news breaking issues, the country can certainly use a bit of collective euphoria as we speak.
Noting the current harsh economic times, financial help may be hard to come by. Even if it does not materialise, the hope is that just as some 30,000 Costa Rican fans packed their national stadium on Tuesday night, so too will the T&T die-hards follow suit to be the 12th man for the next home game against Honduras and the away game to Panama in September.
Even if it does not materialise, the hope is that just as some 30,000 Costa Rican fans packed their national stadium on Tuesday night, so too will the T&T die-hards follow suit to be the 12th man for the next home game against Honduras and the away game to Panama in September.