Trinidad and Tobago are back on track after coming perilously close to tumbling out of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Losing the first leg of their pre-qualifying series to Bermuda on home soil, the Germany 2006 finalists were forced to contemplate a disastrous early exit.
However, goals from Darryl Roberts and Stern John in Prospect saw the Soca Warriors steady their ship and limp into the first group stage of qualifying from North, Central America and the Caribbean. A 3-1 win over Cuba in their first Group game now has the Caribbean side edging the USA for top spot on goal difference, while spurring a jump of ten places up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Moving from 102nd to 92nd this month, the island side are finding a foothold even with their fair share of recent hardship. New coach Francisco ‘Pacho' Maturana, who took over from former boss Leo Beenhakker in February, has had to make do without the services of Sunderland ace Kenwyne Jones, who injured knee ligaments in a June friendly loss to England.
The Colombian boss has also been without Jones' Sunderland teammate and T&T's greatest-ever player, Dwight Yorke. After he fractured his cheekbone, the former Manchester United man's July pledge to return from international retirement and help the team in their qualifiers has proven a tough one to keep.
One of the men who has stepped into the void left by the dual injury blow is Keon Daniel, two-goal hero of T&T's recent 3-1 win over the Cubans in Havana. "We really wanted those three points against Cuba," said the United Petrotrin man and former U-20 international, recently linked with a move to England. "Now we just need to take heart from the progress we showed in that game and keep moving forward."
Their next test will come against Guatemala in Port of Spain on 6 September. The Chapines are eight places behind T&T in the global standings (two behind them in the CONCACAF zone), and smarting from a slim 1-0 loss to the USA in their first group-stage qualifier.
Although the Central Americans will be out for blood against the Caribbean hopefuls, Cornell Glen - who also scored against the Cubans - is keen for the side to keep up the progress.
"The win over Cuba is the perfect start for us as we look ahead to our games with Guatemala and then the USA," the San Juan Jabloteh forward said. "Getting points on the road in our opener is a terrific boon for our confidence and we will just need to keep it up."
With sturdy recent performances in defence from Dennis Lawrence, Avery John and Clyde Leon, the Soca Warriors are firing on all cylinders even without their key injured pair. Maturana is hoping they can ride their current upswing in form further up the world ranking, and all the way to a second straight world finals in South Africa in 2010.