Forget Santa Claus, the Soca Warriors will spend Christmas with new Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Tom Saintfiet.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) confirmed today that Saintfiet will begin his adventure with the National Senior Team on 27 and 31 December 2016 in Nicaragua. The Warriors will depart for Nicaragua on Christmas Day.
Saintfiet told the TTFA Media that the two matches against Nicaragua should be vital preparation for next month’s 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifiers against Suriname and Haiti.
“I am very happy that the Football Association has been able to arrange these two friendly matches at such short notice,” said Saintfiet, “because these will be important preparation games for us before the important Gold Cup qualifiers in January.
“It also helps me as coach to analyse the players we will select and as well as to implement and try out possible strategies which we will want to use in our matches to follow.”
It is uncertain what players will be available for selection. Apart from the Pro League players, Trinidad and Tobago’s Major League Soccer (MLS) contingent are home on their off-season along with Republic of Korea-based defender Carlyle Mitchell.
Netherlands-based winger Levi Garcia is also likely to be back on winter break.
However, the two games against Nicaragua along with the Gold Cup qualifiers against Suriname and Haiti—on 4 and 6 January 2017 respectively—fall outside of the FIFA match window and clubs are not obliged to release players to take part.
Saintfiet promised to take a strong side to Nicaragua.
“We are still not sure about the availability of some of the European-based players and whether they will be released by their clubs,” said Saintfiet, “because these two games and also the ones in January are not within the FIFA dates.
“But I promise you that the players who will be selected from both foreign and local teams will form a strong squad to give us decent results in Nicaragua and to help us prepare for the important matches in January.”
Nicaragua, who are ranked 99th in the world, drew goalless with the Warriors at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 13 October 2015. Trinidad and Tobago have never lost to Nicaragua in an international match.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago are on a three-game losing streak following defeats to Martinique, Costa Rica and Honduras, which led to the replacement of former coach Stephen Hart.
Saintfiet has until March—and two Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Mexico at the Hasely Crawford Stadium—to set that right.
TTFA president David John-Williams vowed that the Belgian coach, who last led the Bangladesh national team, will have to look for a job if he doesn’t get four points from those two upcoming qualifiers.
The local football body is yet to name Saintfiet’s backroom staff.