With just four matches remaining for each nation in the final round of North, Central American and Caribbean qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Trinidad and Tobago have much to do if they are to recover from their slow start and advance. The top three teams qualify for the finals, while the fourth-placed enter a two-game play-off in November against the fifth-placed finisher in South America for the last berth.
T&T are at the bottom of the six-nation table, equal on points with El Salvador, but trailing on goal difference. But with five points in hand after a recent win, the South African dream lives on in the Caribbean camp, as FIFA.com found out.
The Soca Warriors have had plenty to endure of late, including nerve-wracking ties and eventual losses in matches where a point had seemed likely. They have also had to confront the familiar debate as to the optimal mix of veterans and newcomers, an absence at the latest CONCACAF Gold Cup, as well as a recent coaching change.
The win [against El Salvador] has made us believe more that we are capable of turning our chances around.
Former player Russell Latapy assumed the reins in April replacing Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana, under whom T&T had picked up only two points from three matches. Notwithstanding that troubled start, and the two losses that followed, the nation's motto - 'Together we aspire, together we achieve' - has begun to shine through.
In their 1:0 home victory over El Salvador on 12 August, a palpable cohesiveness seemed to have arrived for Latapy's charges. And, though his term began modestly, the so-called Little Magician now has the Soca Warriors exhibiting an attractive style of play. Cornell Glen scored in the seventh minute against the Cuscatlecos, as T&T notched their first victory in hexagonal action.
"In this game [against El Salvador], we saw they were prepared to go all out to try and get something away from home," said Latapy. "I was happy that we were able to take the early lead and hold on to it for the entire match. We didn't concede, which was a bonus for us. There are some things that we could have done better, but, at the end of the day, I'd rather not look pretty and get full points than to play a pretty game and end up with nothing to show for it.
"We know that the next game is going to be a difficult one and all along coming into this final set of matches we knew it was never going to be easy," he said. "So, we will prepare for this match as best as possible and try to ensure that we have something to show for it at the end."
The road ahead
Trinidad and Tobago travel to San Pedro Sula to face Honduras on 5 September and then host USA four days later. In March, the Soca Warriors tied the Catrachos, but Honduras are fresh from an impressive dismissal of leaders Costa Rica and will be energised by that performance.
"Going to Honduras is obviously going to be a very difficult challenge for us because they are coming off a 4-0 win over Costa Rica at home and obviously their tails are up at the moment," said midfielder Carlos Edwards. "But if we can go there and put the pressure on them early, then it could be anyone's game for the taking."
The Soca Warriors became the smallest country to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™ final when they reached Germany 2006, where they pulled off a famous draw with Sweden before making a first-round exit. With the return of Dwight Yorke after a four-game suspension and the inspiring play of Glen, Edwards and Kenwyne Jones, the dual-island nation has every reason to believe that it can mount a late charge.
"The victory against El Salvador was vital for us and I believe it could be the kick-start we need to push ourselves forward in this round," said Sunderland striker Jones. "The win has made us believe more that we are capable of turning our chances around and the fans were also happy with the result.
The important thing now is for us to maintain this momentum and take it into the next two matches," he said. "We need to try and win all our remaining games and that can only happen if we believe in ourselves and play to our full potential."
For the aspiring Soca Warriors, qualifying for their second consecutive FIFA World Cup is certainly not out of reach, but will require, at the very least, a healthy dose of togetherness.