Once again Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala find themselves neck-and-neck in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. The Caribbean side just shaded the Chapines for the fourth CONCACAF spot and a debut at the last finals two years ago. The man who scored the crucial goal in the play-off with Bahrain that booked T&T's passage to Germany, defender Dennis Lawrence, sat down with FIFA.com in the run-up to yet another key meeting with Carlos Ruiz's tricky Central American skill merchants.
"In the first leg we drew Guatemala at home in Port of Spain, but it was a game we should have won," Lawrence, 34, remarked about their previous Group 1 meeting in the region's semi-final qualifying round. "Now we'll just have to find a way to rebound."
On 6 September, a goal six minutes from time at the Hasely Crawford ground by Keon Daniel - ably deputising for the injured Kenwyne Jones - seemed enough to allow the islanders grab hold of the three points. But they switched off in the dying moments, allowing Carlos Gallardo to hammer home a stoppage time equaliser. A win over Cuba and a 3-0 loss to the USA in Chicago now has Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana's Trinidad tangled with Guatemala on four points ahead of a crucial return meeting in Guatemala City on 11 October. The winner will solidify second place behind the USA, who have won all of their games, and inch closer to a spot in the final round.
"There's no use worrying about the first game now," said Lawrence, who plays for Wales-based English Championship side Swansea. "I think if we approach the game right and play our football, we can get a result."
Trinidad's campaign was nearly over before it started as they lost to minnows Bermuda in the preliminary round, requiring a tense win on the road to save huge blushes. "The tough scrape against Bermuda was a blessing in disguise," the lanky defender admitted. "It proved we could go into a tricky situation and keep our heads."
Lawrence and Co can expect a far trickier test when they arrive in Central America next month. "Playing Guatemala away is always going to be tough," added the veteran of the Germany 2006 side that earned a credible draw with Sweden before heading for home. "This current Guatemala team is as good as any I've seen, too. They move the ball well, are very technical and we'll just have to find a way to break them down."
The responsibility of squaring up to Guatemala's ace striker, Carlos Ruiz, who leads CONCACAF qualifying with six goals, will fall squarely on the shoulders of the optimistic Lawrence. "Any time you face a guy like Ruiz you have to be careful, because he can hurt you in a flash," the former Defence Force player added.
Confidence in the Trini camp is unlikely to be at a high point, with the team just coming off a 3-0 hiding against group-toppers USA. "After playing well in our first two games, it was a shock to be beaten so badly in the States," Lawrence added, noting the absence of Dwight Yorke as a factor in the heavy loss. "They were better than us on the day in every single category of the game...now we can only look forward."
Admitting that the return leg with the USA in Port of Spain on 15 October presents a chance for revenge, the 74-times capped defender is only focusing on getting the side into the final six-team ‘hexagonal.' "Our plan for the next three games is simple: get nine points and ensure our place in the final round. We want to keep our fate in our own hands."