When Trinidad and Tobago line up in Egypt this September, it will be only the second time that a team from the dual-island Caribbean nation have reached a FIFA U-20 World Cup. However, under the able stewardship of Serbian coach Zoran Vranes, hopes are high that the young Soca Warriors can overcome their lack of experience and pedrigree and make a splash among the big boys.
"We are doing OK at the moment," Vranes, who previously coached the T&T senior team and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told FIFA.com. "Nothing is ever completely smooth and easy here in the Caribbean, but the officials at the local clubs where the lads play know that the finals in Egypt are important and I am working very hard with my squad at the moment. We are OK."
The speedy and athletic young squad, led by Sean de Silva and Qian Grosvenor, were impressive when they hosted the regional qualifiers back in March, but have since fallen a little flat. They recently lost to Paraguay by a large margin and dropped another friendly result against Brazil, but the former Partizan and Šumadija player chalks that up to bumps in the road. "So we lost 4-0 to Paraguay; they surprised us a little bit," added the coach, who has been with the T&T juniors for more than 18 months. "But we paid good attention to what we did wrong in that game, and I can guarantee the same problems will not happen when me meet them again in Egypt. We learn and adapt."
In addition to Paraguay, Vranes and Co will also meet up with hosts Egypt and the ever-competitive Italy in Group A at the world finals in September and October. "We will face some tough teams, but we will not be going there as whipping boys, no, no," the coach went on. "We are preparing right now to be competitive. There's no guarantee we'll go to the second round, but we will not be thumped by anyone."
If Trinidad and Tobago can recreate their form from the qualifying campaign, where they conceded only five goals in five games against sturdy and attack-minded opposition like Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA, then Vranes and his charges may well be in with a shout. "We have a lot of the things that you need to be a good team," the tactician from the Balkans insisted. "I have been with the side for a long time now and I have put in place a development system. I had to start from scratch, but I think the boys have bought into my style and approach."
The coach, who is well regarded in the Caribbean region since transforming St. Vincent from minnows and bringing them to the semi-final stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006™, is focusing on defence at the moment. But he also knows his team has the natural ability that will result in lightning-fast attacking raids up the other end.
"We have speed and power," commented Vranes, who has called the Caribbean home since 1995. "Caribbean teams are always like this. We are also developing endurance and even working on our technique, in addition to tactics. The boys are listening to what I tell them and we are right where we need to be."
The tests to come in Egypt are bound to be fierce for the inexperienced islanders. But to hear their effusive and likable boss tell the tale, confidence is matching potential in the Trinidadian camp.