In 1989, Trinidad and Tobago were preparing to celebrate their first-ever qualification for the FIFA World Cup. Although both improbable and surprising, the Soca Warriors had moved up to second place in the six-team final qualifying round, and in their last game just needed a draw in Port of Spain against the United States to qualify. But they could not manage it. A Paul Caligiuri goal saw the Stars and Stripes qualify, leaving the hosts and their fans disconsolate.
Sixteen years later, hope returned to the Trinidadians. After a protracted qualifying campaign, they had managed to secure fourth place just ahead of Guatemala in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone. This meant a play-off against Bahrain, who themselves had already beaten Uzbekistan in a dramatic play-off to progress that far.
16 November 2005, Manama National Stadium
*Bahrain 0-1 Trinidad and Tobago
*Goalscorers: Dennis Lawrence (Trinidad and Tobago) 49'
Bahrain: Hussein Ali Hassan, Sayed Jalal, Rashed Abdul Rahman, Salman Ghuloom (Fouzi Aaish 80'), Sayed Mahfood, Hussein Baba, Mohamed Basheer, Mohamed Talal, Ahmed Husain, Ala'a Hubail, Mohamed Hubail. Coach: Luca Peruzovic
Trinidad and Tobago: Kelvin Jack, Avery John, Marvin Andrews, Dennis Lawrence, Chris Birchall (Silvio Spann 21'), Aurtis Whitley, Carlos Edwards (Cox 83'), Stern John, Kenwyne Jones (Russell Latapy 77'), Dwight Yorke, Cyd Gray. Coach: Leo Beenhakker
The first leg in Port of Spain had finished 1-1, a result which delighted the Asians. After a scoreless first half, Bahrain opened the scoring through Salman Ghuloom in the 72nd minute. The home team, however, came back strongly, and just four minutes later Chris Birchall popped up with an equaliser, leaving everything to play for in the second leg.
So the situation was clear on the eve of the match in Manama: a win of any kind or a goalless draw would see Bahrain qualify for Germany 2006, while the Soca Warriors needed to go out to win to avoid reliving their painful experience of 1989.
*Despite having everything in their favour, the home team seemed to feel the pressure from the outset. Their normally quick and well-coordinated play had become fragmented, and Trinidad quickly made their physical presence felt to dominate the game. Unsurprisingly then, the best chance of the first half fell to the Soca Warriors, when Stern John found himself one-on-one against Bahrain goalkeeper Hussein Ali, who bravely denied the Trinidadian forward.
Barely four minutes of the second half had elapsed when the pivotal moment arrived. True to the pattern of the match, the Trinidadians won an aerial battle, but this time made it count. Dwight Yorke sent in a measured corner and giant defender Dennis Lawrence rose above the Bahrain defence to head home on 49 minutes.
Feeling their qualification hopes slipping away, the hosts went on the attack, betraying more than a hint of desperation. Ahmed Husain sent a free-kick just past the post and Trinidad shot-stopper Kelvin Jack made a heroic save after a rasping effort from Mohamed Talal.
As the minutes passed, Trinidad seemed to grow in belief as their opponents gradually lost their composure. Hussein Baba was sent off, and it became clear which team would be heading to Germany 2006. On the final whistle, what seemed like the entire Caribbean took to the streets to celebrate the Soca Warriors' historic achievement.
*Although he did not get on the scoresheet, Dwight Yorke was instrumental in helping his country qualify for Germany 2006. The forward played slightly higher up the pitch than normal and won more than his share of possession. And it was, of course, his corner that set up Lawrence's winning header.
What they said
*“It was a really tough tie, as it was logistically very difficult to have the players prepared for such a huge game, given the marathon journey we had to make to Bahrain and the result of the first leg. I'm delighted that we've done it, and I'm sure there are parties going on all over Trinidad,” *Leo Beenhakker, Trinidad and Tobago coach.
*What happened next?
*Anyone who thought Trinidad and Tobago would be cannon fodder at Germany 2006 was very much mistaken. With the shrewd Dutchman Leo Beenhakker at the helm, the Soca Warriors made life very difficult for all their opponents. They began their adventure with a historic 0-0 draw against Sweden, thanks to an inspired performance from goalkeeper Shaka Hislop.
Their next match against England seemed to be going the same way. With Hislop thwarting all English attempts on goal, it looked like Beenhakker's side would earn another unlikely point, but seven minutes from time, Peter Crouch popped up to break the deadlock. Steven Gerrard then added another in injury time to seal a 2-0 win for England.
The Soca Warriors went on to lose by the same scoreline to Paraguay in their final game, but they had made their mark on the world stage, and inspired and thrilled the entire Caribbean with their brave performances.