Consistency is not a hallmark of Caribbean football, and Trinidad and Tobago – arguably the region’s top side – are no exception. Losses in September and October to arch-rivals Jamaica yielded heavy criticism for current coach and former playing icon Russell Latapy, which then reached fever pitch following a pair of draws in October against Guyana and Belize. The so-called 'Little Magician', however, seems to have righted the ship for the time being and the Soca Warriors head for Martinique and the finals of the 2010 Caribbean Cup as favourites.
“We have to go there with the mindset that we are going to win the tournament,” said Latapy, a former Porto and Rangers playmaker and the first man from the dual-island nation to appear in the UEFA Champions League. “Our preparations have always been based on the assumption that we can win the tournament if we manage to play our best football."
Latapy and Co go into the 16th instalment of the Caribbean finals riding a wave of revived form, strolling to first place in their qualifying Group F on home soil. A 6-2 drubbing of St Vincent and the Grenadines was followed by a less-than-convincing 2-1 win over improving Guyana and a decisive 4-0 rout of 2007 Caribbean kings Haiti. Devon Jorsling and Hughton Hector were the heroes for the Soca Warriors, bagging three goals apiece in the trio of games.
The pair of poachers hope to keep up the form in Martinique, leading a domestic-based and inexperienced side without such notable overseas stars as Kenwyne Jones and Carlos Edwards, who have not been released by their clubs. W Connection is the best represented club in the 20-man squad headed to Martinique, the Couva-based side sending six of its employers.
The three wins also saw the Trinidadians leap up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, making a 28-place jump to 78th to become the second-best movers for the month of November. One place ahead of defending Caribbean champions Jamaica – their main rivals for the crown in Martinique – T&T will be riding high and fancying their chances. They will face some stern opposition in their first round of the tournament finals, however, up against motivated hosts Martinique, as well as Cuba and Grenada, all three teams hoping to deal the Soca Warriors a blow.
Despite sitting within touching distance of the likes of Senegal and Saudi Arabia in the global pecking order, Trinidad and Tobago are still a long way from matching their greatest moments on the world scene. A natural producer of talent, the country climbed as high as 25th in the world in 2001, and then, in 2006, under the management of Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, they became the smallest nation to reach a FIFA World Cup. Since those heady days, though, it has been a time of rebuilding, with the side finishing bottom of the final CONCACAF qualifying group for the 2010 finals in South Africa and missing out on the 2009 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Caribbean festival in Martinique represents the perfect opportunity for Latapy to start the side on a cycle of success. A place in the semi-finals would be good enough to qualify them for next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA, the winner of which would book a place in the FIFA Confederations Cup. The door is open for Trinidad and Tobago to reach the world stage once again and, if current form is anything to go by, only the foolish would count them out.
Our preparations have always been based on the assumption that we can win the tournament if we manage to play our best football.