A powerful impulse, pride can be a massive motivator of men, footballers perhaps chief among them. Earlier this month, Trinidad and Tobago's slim 1-0 loss against USA officially signalled the end of their charge for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. However, with two matches still to go T&T remain a proud band and are eager to start the long road to Brazil 2014 with a final push.
In 2006, the islanders became the smallest nation ever to reach the FIFA World Cup, but they have failed to build on the achievements that put them among the big boys in Germany. In truth, they never looked up to the challenge this time around. Picking up just five points from eight games in the final six-team hexagonal round and conceding nearly two goals a game, coach Russell Latapy, who took over from Colombian Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana in April, could never quite get his lads hitting the high notes.
"It's about national pride at this point," said Latapy, 41, who lined up for Trinidad in Germany in the summer of 2006 and is one of the dual-island nation's most revered footballing icons. "It's also about football. All of the lads in our dressing room are professionals, so we are inspired by two kinds of pride: national pride and professional pride, and they're both powerful."
With only four points separating the top four teams (USA, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica) in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, the Trinidadians can still have a serious impact on outcome. They travel to Costa Rica on 10 October, with the Ticos mired in fourth place (one out of the three automatic qualifying places the region receives) and needing a result under new boss Rene Simoes. Four days later, they travel to Mexico, with Javier Aguirre's El Tri now up to second after a long-overdue revival.
"I expect every player to go in there and work hard every time they put on the jersey to demonstrate pride on the pitch and in their personal life as well. So although we're out, we know that every single game we play we're going to try to win it, and that's what we will continue to do," Latapy continued, urging his side on.
Overall, it has been an exceedingly wobbly campaign for the men from the Caribbean. An early injury to top striker Kenwyne Jones, the advancing age and eventual retirement of Yorke (now assistant coach to his old playing mate Latapy) and some disarray in the technical area following the ill-fated reign of Maturana have left the country with some big questions to ask. Even with the general outlook a bit gloomy, though, positive play from the likes of versatile speed merchant Carlos Edwards and Keon Daniel offer glimmers of hope.
Their last game, on 9 September in Port of Spain, was arguably the Warriors' best of the final round. Even so, the slim one-goal loss spelled doom and the fans at the Hasely Crawford Stadium hardly looked surprised at the final whistle, faces downcast and sorrowful. "I think we need to become more ruthless in finishing games off and we have to take our opportunities," said the man known as 'the little magician,' or simply 'magic', already eyeing a future of increased professionalism. "We have to make our dominance into winning performances."
When the dread-locked, sad-eyed Latapy shook hands with USA coach Bob Bradley after the match, among the usual pleasantries and generous gestures was a half-winking appeal from the American: "knock off one of the big boys for us." The Trinidadian's response was instructive and honest: "We play the same every game."