Beenhakker runs rule over young guns
Trinidad and Tobago's recent training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida allowed coach Leo Beenhakker an opportunity to see some fresh faces in the run-up to the islanders' FIFA World Cup finals debut in Germany in June.
The Dutchman called up 15 uncapped players in a highly experimental squad missing Dwight Yorke, Stern John and the British-based core expected to turn out in Germany, and the young hopefuls a mixture of domestic-based players and college starlets from the United States gave a good account of themselves in their two friendly matches.
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The first was a 1-0 victory over Florida International University on 3 February, a nervy win secured by a late goal from recent San Juan Jabloteh signing Anthony Wolfe. Playing against a university side on their off-season, it took time for T&T's team of untested players to come together. "It's just a training exercise for us really," Beenhakker remarked after the final whistle.
"The guys played their game and we have another day of training tomorrow and a game on Sunday and then I will be able to draw my conclusions." In addition to the matchwinner Wolfe, Jabloteh team-mate Kerry Baptiste impressed on the right flank while Errol McFarlane, stand-in captain Anthony Rougier, Aurtis Whitley and Cyd Gray all did well in an experimental Soca Warriors lineup.
The second match of the trip came two days later against the Miami-based Honduras 5-Stars club and coach Beenhakker saw the training camp end on a positive note as Darryl Roberts' 77th-minute goal gave Trinidad a 2-1 win. As his young side walked off the pitch, the coach was heard to say: "Good effort guys. I like it. I like it very much. Thank you for the effort."
Stand-in centre-back Anthony Noreiga who was impressive in his second straight match had earlier chipped in with a fifth-minute opener but the Hondurans fought back and equalised before Roberts' well-taken strike settled matters.
No worries for Beenhakker
Asked about the pressure of preparing a team for their first FIFA World Cup finals, Beenhakker said he was feeling none of it: "No one is feeling undue pressure, not for the moment. I think everyone has the right to be excited and celebrate. Most of my players are based overseas and they know how to handle the pressure. But the players at the same time realise it will be a hell of a job to be successful in Germany but we know it's possible to surprise somebody."
Beenhakker will next announce a provisional squad of 30 players - to be cut down to 20 - for T&T's first official friendly of the year, the 28 February meeting with Iceland at Loftus Road in London. Although the US college players included in the Fort Lauderdale camp remain in hopeful mood, they will know their chances of getting into the squad for this and the other pre-finals friendlies are slim.
Roberts, Noreiga, Osei Telesford, Julius James and Kevon Neaves produced decent performances according to Beenhakker, but they will need a slice of luck to squeeze their way into the squad for Germany. Of the new boys, Noreiga acquitted himself best and his imminent move to Kansas City Wizards of the USA's Major League Soccer seems to point to a positive future in the game.
"Once I can get chances like these I think I am up for it. There are always ups and downs but we are all becoming more professional about it. I always knew this sort of opportunity was in the making, but I didn't think it would come this soon and it's just a matter of taking it in good stride," said the former Princes Town Senior Comprehensive captain.
Looking ahead to Germany, T&T have confirmed their plans for the final run-up to the tournament. Beenhakker's squad will meet in Port of Spain on 7 May before playing a friendly against Peru three days later. On 13 May they will leave for their final training camp in Manchester, England.
After a week in the north of England, the team will travel to Austria on 20 May and a match with Austria Vienna before taking on Wales and Slovenia on 27 and 30 May. The side's final friendly will come on 3 June in Prague against fellow finalists Czech Republic just seven days before they open their FIFA World Cup campaign against Sweden. Also in the Group B are England and Paraguay.
"This is the schedule we have finalised for our build-up to the World Cup and it will provide us with what we need going into the tournament," Beenhakker told the Trinidad & Tobago Express.