The “Soca Warriors” landed in Guatemala City this afternoon with some butterflies in their stomach as they prepare to finally kick off their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign from 9.06 pm on Friday against hosts, Guatemala.
Trinidad and Tobago whipped Guatemala 3-1 at the July 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago. But it has been 26 years since they last won in Guatemala City—thanks to a Kerry Jamerson strike in 1989—and the Warriors’ previous trip there ended in a humiliating 5-1 defeat on 26 March 2005.
Defender Sheldon Bateau, the first Trinidad and Tobago footballer to play professionally in Russia, admitted that there were some nerves but suggested the Warriors were experienced enough to cope.
“Definitely there will be some nerves as we know it’s always difficult going to these countries,” Bateau told the TTFA Media, “and for most of the players it will be the first time playing a World Cup qualifier in Guatemala. But we have enough experience within the group to cope with this kind of situation.
“We just have to focus on our game and the task at hand which is getting a result. I think we are ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Bateau scored his first international goal against Guatemala, four months ago, with a header off a Khaleem Hyland corner kick and the Central American nation froze and conceded further first half items from Cordell Cato and Joevin Jones.
Guatemala are unlikely to cave as easily on Friday. Since those three T&T strikes in 14 minutes, the Central American nation conceded just four times in their subsequent 540 minutes. And Guatemala have not allowed more than a solitary goal per game in their last nine matches, which include fixtures against Mexico, Cuba, Honduras and El Salvador.
But then Guatemala’s problems tend to come at the other end. In their four Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers thus far against the unheralded Bermuda and the improved but un-menacing Antigua and Barbuda, “La Azul y Blanco” scored just three goals and two of those came from defenders, Stefano Cincotta and Dennis Lopez.
Captain and 35-year-old forward Carlos Ruiz scored Guatemala’s other item. The spiky striker also scored against the Warriors at the Gold Cup and it would take cool heads to deal with his provocative demeanour at the Estadio Mateo Flores.
In his last outing against Trinidad and Tobago, Ruiz twice nearly provoked brawls with a sly elbow at defender Daneil Cyrus and a stamp on goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, which both went unpunished by the match referee.
Seattle Sounders winger Marco Pappa is the main source of creativity in the Guatemala team while the Comunicaciones duo of Kendell Herrarte and Jose Aparicio are also useful going forward.
But the Warriors, even without injured playmaker Kevin Molino, have no reason to feel inferior in Guatemala City. And coach Stephen Hart has spent most of his time focusing on his own team’s play.
“We are always discussing (…) what we know of Guatemala but (we are) not overly concerned about their game,” said Hart. “My main concern when I’m talking to the players is about being in control of their own game, how they approach play, being tidier with the ball and how we recover the ball…”
Thus far, the Warriors’ threat has come from rapid counter-attacks, built around giant forward and captain Kenwyne Jones and speedy wingers Joevin Jones and Cordell Cato.
Guatemala favour a 3-5-2 system but abandoned that formation halfway through their last clash with Trinidad and Tobago, so as to protect themselves down either flank.
If the hosts remain as respectful of the Warriors, it could lead to a cagey fixture.
Unlike previous Trinidad and Tobago teams, Hart’s soldiers can thrive without much time on the ball or intricate forward play.
Five of Trinidad and Tobago’s eight goals at the Gold Cup came directly from set pieces, while the Warriors scored off a free kick and corner kick respectively in recently friendlies against Mexico and Panama.
Bateau declared that, based on the squad’s experience, athleticism, chemistry and recent results, they have every reason to expect positive results away to Guatemala and at home to the United States next Tuesday.
“I think we just need to put everything into these two games as we’ve done before and even more and we can come away with two positive results,” said Bateau, a two-time FIFA World Youth Cup player. “I hope we can have a full stadium on Tuesday because as far as I can remember, whenever we played the US and I was there as a fan, the stadium was always filled when players like Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy were around.
“I would like to see that again. We need to make it our home territory and the fans need to play their part and be the extra man for us.”
Tickets for the November 17 World Cup qualifier against the US are on sale at Sports & Games, The Fan Club (Movie Towne, Trincity and Gulf City Mall), Kenny’s (Port of Spain) Ramsingh’s Sportworld (Couva), Sportway (Ellerslie Plaza and Gulf City), Heritage Sports (Tobago), Fan Zone (Centre City Mall, Chaguanas) and online at www.islandetickets.com.
The US clash will kick off at 7.30 pm while gates open at 4 pm. No coolers will be allowed at the event.
(Trinidad and Tobago)
Goalkeepers: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United);
Defenders: Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire—USA), Justin Hoyte (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land—South Korea), Sheldon Bateau (FC Krylia Samara—Russia), Radanfah Abu Bakr (HB Koge—Denmark), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Mekeil Williams (Antigua GFC—Guatemala), Aubrey David (Shakhter Karagandy—Kazakhstan);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Kevan George (Columbus Crew—USA), Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars);
Attacking Midfielders: Trevin Caesar (Austin Aztex—USA), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA), Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire—USA), Lester Peltier (Slovan Bratislava—Slovakia), Keron Cummings (North East Stars);
Forwards: Kenwyne Jones (Cardiff City—Wales), Willis Plaza (Central FC), Jonathan Glenn (Breioablik—Iceland).