When the draw was made for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007
most pundits were in agreement that Colombia - second in South
American qualifying - Ghana - second in African qualifying - and
Germany - fifth in the equivalent European tournament - would be
the contenders to advance to the last 16 from Group F. Trinidad and
Tobago, meanwhile, were seen as very much the outsiders.
The young Soca Warriors had a hard time of it in CONCACAF qualifying and only squeezed through after a narrow victory over Jamaica. Nevertheless, the islanders are hoping to spring a surprise or two at this their second appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup and make the so-called experts eat their words. "Underdog" is a tag which suits them down to the ground and one that could help them take a few teams unawares.
"There is no pressure on us whatsoever. The other sides don't know much about us," coach Anton Corneal told FIFA.com. "I'm pretty sure we will give a good account of ourselves against all three opponents. Our preparations have gone well in any case." The Caribbean team did their last-minute fine-tuning at a training camp in the Netherlands, where they were put through their paces. "Our preparations went very well. We were able to see how we match up against international opponents and we played well against Peru and Honduras," said an upbeat Corneal. "We gained some invaluable international experience, something we lacked in the past."
This experience should stand Trinidad in good stead, and provided that they stay organised they have every reason to be confident about Monday evening's opening match against Ghana at the Cheonan Sports Complex. With the Africans starting off as favourites, Corneal is banking on team spirit and effort to see T&T through. "What sets us apart from the rest is our never-say-die attitude. We can also play with real discipline and we've gained in experience."
Team spirit the key
Going into the tournament the junior Soca Warriors certainly present a very united front. Many of the players know each other from club football and there are no fewer than eight members of the San Juan Jabloteh team in the 21-strong squad. "This is obviously an advantage as the lads know each other so well and are used to playing together," smiled Corneal.
With their tournament debut approaching fast, anticipation is building among the players, as captain Leston Paul explains. "All youth players dream of taking part in a World Cup, and it's great that we are getting to live the dream," said the midfielder, who plies his trade back home with Defence Force.
Like his coach, Paul is in no way worried about the fact that he
and his team-mates are seen as outsiders in Group F.
"We're concentrating on our own game rather than our
opponents, and we definitely want to make it through to the next
round." Not even the thought of walking out in front of a
packed stadium in Cheonan on Monday night can throw the skipper off
his stride. "I'm trying to stay as cool as possible and
concentrate on the match," he added.
The inspiration for Trinidad and Tobago's younger generation is obviously comes from the older breed of Soca Warriors, who created a stir at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ by drawing with Sweden and only slipping to a narrow and unlucky defeat to England. "They played really well at the World Cup but didn't quite get the results they'd hoped for," continued Paul. "Let's hope that we can do better in that respect." Their first opportunity to do so is just a matter of hours away.