The “Soca Warriors” are preparing a hot welcome for the Nicaragua football team from 7 pm tomorrow (Tuesday October 13) at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, as coach Stephen Hart challenged his players to assert themselves.
Last Thursday, the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team managed their first win in Panama City in 10 years, after a 2-1 triumph courtesy of strikes by captain Kenwyne Jones and defender Radanfah Abu Bakr.
But Hart was not satisfied with his team’s performance and wants the Warriors to go up a gear or two in Port of Spain against another Central American opponent.
“I think it is important to establish your dominance at home, even if it means long periods with the ball,” Hart told Wired868. “I thought the Panama performance was extremely nervous. Yes, we created a lot of chances but I think it is important to establish some dominance on the ball and manage the game better.
“(Although we do not want to) lose what we have, which is quite an efficient counter attack.”
Pace, patience and spatial awareness are the watchwords then, as the Warriors enter their last dress rehearsal before their opening Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers away to Guatemala on November 13 and then at home to the United States on November 17.
“It is not so much about being more offensive or defensive, it is about balance,” said Hart. “It is about recognising when you can do things and how you can fill the space going forward. And how you can fill the space going backwards or deny them the space as high up the pitch as possible…
“The general formula in a home and away series like the World Cup (qualifying series) is to take care of your business at home and try to pinch points on the road… “We (must) understand that (at home) we should try to be the team that dictates how and where the game is played and at what speed.”
Nicaragua, who are led by Costa Rican coach Henry Duarte and Austria-based captain and playmaker Juan Barrera, have won six of their eight outings this year including wins on the road against 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup finalists, Jamaica, and quarterfinalists, Cuba.
“Los Pinoleros” were eliminated from the 2018 World Cup qualifying series by Jamaica on goal difference. Hart is uncertain what frame of mind the Central American outfit will travel with but warned that they are a capable team.
“I watched the game versus Jamaica (and Nicaragua) are a neat, typical sort of Latin team,” said Hart. “They take a fair amount of risk and it will be interesting to see how they approach this game because it is a (very) different situation (to when) they went in Jamaica.”
Incidentally, the Trinidad and Tobago and Nicaragua Football Associations have studiously ignored each other for decades. Official stats suggest that the two nations only met once in a senior international match.
Their sole clash came in 1967 at a forerunner to the current CONCACAF Gold Cup competition. Trinidad and Tobago, with Alvin Corneal in the squad, won 3-1 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, courtesy a Kelvin Berassa double and a solitary Gerry Brown strike.
The Warriors will aim to maintain their 100 percent record against Nicaragua then. But, naturally, Hart already has one eye on next month’s clash with Guatemala. And he is taking nothing for granted, despite Trinidad and Tobago’s 3-1 win over Guatemala at the July Gold Cup.
“(Playing) Guatemala in Guatemala is a different sort of animal altogether and historically it has been a difficult place to go and play,” said Hart. “It is almost impossible to recreate that sort of environment in an exhibition setting. But the (Central America) style of play on the field, we have to get familiar with.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s last win in Guatemala City came 26 years ago in 1989, when current goalkeeper coach Michael “Brow” Maurice kept a clean sheet, assistant coach Hutson “Barber” Charles started in midfield and spiky ball-winner Kerry Jamerson settled the game with a blast from outside the penalty box.
Since then, the boys from the “Land of the Hummingbird” have travelled to Guatemala four times and returned with one goalless draw and three heavy defeats, including a 5-1 loss in 2005 that led to Dutchman Leo Beenhakker being summoned to replace local coach Bertille St Clair in the Warriors’ unforgettable Germany 2006 World Cup campaign.
Jones and company are preparing to create their own history.
They cannot do it alone, though. Hart urged patriots to get behind the “Red, Black and White” tomorrow and warned that the Warriors cannot make it to Russia without support from the stands.
“I think it is important to have a lot of support (tomorrow),” said Hart. “Players need to feel loved, they need to feel wanted. And I think these players have not only sacrificed a lot but they have been showing a dedication to not only Trinidad and Tobago’s colours but (also) to what we have been trying to do.
“And that deserves a lot of support and a lot of push and positive energy. And we will need that right through the campaign—believe me.”
He credited the spirit of his squad and their resilience in overcoming the absence of playmaker Kevin Molino as well as midfielder Hughtun Hector and defender Carlyle Mitchell and Robert Primus.
“We have a group of players who will do anything that is asked, even if it is uncomfortable,” said Hart. “And for me that is very, very important. This is not a club team (so) we cannot go out and buy somebody.
“Look at big teams in the world (who lost) one or two players and (they) are in a disaster. Holland lost (Arjen) Robben, they are in trouble. Argentina lost one player, (Lionel) Messi, and they lost at home to Ecuador.
“We lost Molino, we haven’t had Hector, we haven’t had Carlyle Mitchell, we haven’t had Primus, who was a solid full back, and the other players have stepped in and done the job.
“For me, that shows a lot of quality in terms of dedication to the cause and that is very important for the building of a team.”
The Trinidad and Tobago footballers aim to make another step towards becoming the slick, intelligent and aggressive outfit that Hart envisions. Against Nicaragua, Hart wants his Warriors to show who is the boss in Port of Spain.
(Trinidad and Tobago team)
Goalkeepers: 21.Jan-Michael Williams, 1.Marvin Phillip;
Defenders: 23.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Sheldon Bateau, 18.Yohance Marshall, 2.Aubrey David, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17.Mekeil Williams;
Midfielders: 8.Khaleem Hyland, 14.Andre Boucaud, 19.Kevan George, 15.Neveal Hackshaw;
Attacking midfielders: 11.Trevin Caesar, 20.Keron Cummings, 3.Joevin Jones, 13.Aikim Andrews;
Forwards: 9.Kenwyne Jones, 7.Jonathan Glenn, 10.Willis Plaza.