The Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 football team will continue its Turkey 2013 World Cup campaign tomorrow at the Waterhouse Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica after a climb-down by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) executive committee.
Trinidad and Tobago plays Puerto Rico from 4 pm (3 pm local time) in its opening encounter from a four-team group that includes Haiti and Curaçao. The game is free for patrons in Jamaica. A second group comprises Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname and Antigua and Barbuda and the top two teams from each group advance to the CONCACAF stage.
The young “Soca Warriors” qualified for the Caribbean final round after finishing second in a preliminary group that included winners Suriname, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines. However, a rift between Sport Minister Anil Roberts and the TTFF executive committee had placed the team’s participation in the Caribbean finals in doubt.
Roberts has refused to recognise TTFF general secretary Richard Groden or interim president Lennox Watson and his Ministry attempted to pay bills for the national senior team by writing a cheque to TTFF employee and team manager William Wallace.
The TTFF returned the cheque to the Sport Ministry on the grounds that Wallace was not authorised to handle finances on its behalf. The government refused to relent though and, desperately short of funds, the local football body backed down.
Last week, Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed met Wallace and TTFF technical director Anton Corneal but, pointedly, no member of the present TTFF executive was present. And Wallace left with the same cheque for $47,026 that was refused about two weeks ago.
This money should cover bills in Jamaica so as to hopefully spare the teenagers from the conditions suffered by the senior Warriors in St Kitts and Nevis last month.
“The TTFF had no choice,” an insider told Wired868.com. “There was a meeting and it was decided that we would not allow this team to withdraw from the tournament.”
It is likely to be the final act for Watson and possibly Groden as well.
Former TTFF vice-president Raymond Tim Kee is set to be elected president unopposed on 11 November 2012 and Groden is expected to be his first casualty.
The national under-20 team aims to take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the two sporting bodies.
“The main thing is that we are here now and we have an objective which is to qualify for the CONCACAF Final round and to try and top this group as well,” said national under-20 coach Ross Russell, who also coaches local Pro League team Defence Force. “I think the squad has improved since the previous round and I’m looking forward to seeing them demonstrating that on the field of play.”
Trinidad and Tobago will be led by 17-year-old captain and 1st Santa Rosa FC attacker Duane Muckette while the DirecTV W Connection pair of midfielder Jomal Williams and defender Neil Benjamin and Central FC winger Shaquille Nesbitt bring Pro League experience to the squad.
St Anthony’s College midfielder Xavier Rajpaul and Naparima College midfielder Adan Noel are also key squad members while the 16-year-old pair of defender Shannon Gomez and winger Akeem Garcia are also involved despite still being under-17 players.
In August 2012, the Trinidad and Tobago under-20 squad edged Guyana 2-1 and then lost 3-0 to Suriname before whipping hosts St Vincent and the Grenadines 3-0 to advance from the preliminary stage.
The Puerto Rican under-20 side, in contrast, came through its preliminary round unbeaten after 2-0 wins over Bermuda and Barbados and a goalless tie with Haiti.
Russell, who is assisted by his former national teammate Reynold Carrington, expects a physical, aerial game from Puerto Rico but is confident that his troops will rise to the challenge.
“We’ve gotten a good feel of the venue and the surroundings because you would see it’s obviously different to what we are accustomed to playing international football in back home,” Russell told the TTFF Media. “… We know that Puerto Rico’s football has been improving but our boys are also very hungry for success and they know it’s important for them to progress and qualify for the World Cup next year.”
Despite Creed’s unflattering remarks regarding the performances of the national football teams, the TTFF has ironically enjoyed rare successes over the past year. The national men’s under-23 and under-17 teams and the women’s under-17 side all got to the final CONCACAF qualifying round. Tim Kee, who promised a harmonious working relationship with the Sport Ministry, would expect to build on that platform.
The national under-20 side will try to keep the run going tomorrow.
T&T squad: Kevin Dodds, Quesi Weston, Adan Noel, Dwight Quintero, Alvin Jones, Anthony Charles, Damani Richards, Neil Benjamin, Shannon Gomez, Shaquille Nesbitt, Duane Muckette (captain), Xavier Rajpaul, Jomal Williams, Marcus Gomez, Akeem Garcia, Shackiel Henry, Keane McGiver, Kerron Bethelmy, Shaquille Holder, Garvin Samaroo.