Guatemala have never won a competitive fixture in Trinidad and Tobago. And the Soca Warriors will expect to keep it that way as the two nations clash in Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action from 7.06pm tomorrow at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Guatemala, who have never qualified for a senior World Cup, must win to keep their Russian dreams alive. But form and history are against them.
From Steve David’s winner against the Central American nation on 10 December 1973—in an ill-fated and controversial Germany 1974 World Cup qualifying campaign—Trinidad and Tobago lost just twice in their following nine WCQ meetings against Guatemala and both defeats were abroad.
Guatemala’s last competitive win against the “Red, Black and White” came seven games and 11 years ago, when they romped to a shock 5-1 home win in 2005.
Trinidad and Tobago responded by replacing coach Bertille St Clair with Dutchman Leo Beenhakker and recovered sufficiently to book a historic place at the Germany 2006 World Cup.
A draw tomorrow will ensure that the current Trinidad and Tobago team continue their progress towards Russia, as they will join the United States—barring an unlikely loss for coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s men in St Vincent—in the hex, which is CONCACAF’s final World Cup qualifying round.
Warriors head coach Stephen Hart believes he knows how to get his team there.
“We have to take away their midfield, which is arguably their strongest point, and nullify their service line to [Carlos] Ruiz,” Hart told Wired868. “We have to be aware of closing down space quickly and making the key players in those areas of the field play somewhere else.”
Guatemala prefer a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation that will invariably rely on Jose Contreras to pull the strings in central midfield while the dashing Marco Papa tries to find pockets of space to create scoring opportunities for their snarling veteran striker and team captain, Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz, Contreras and Papa have 257 international appearances between them.
Ruiz, who is Guatemala’s record scorer and appearance holder with 60 goals from 128 caps, scored the consolation goal for the Central American nation when the Warriors won 3-1 at the 2015 Gold Cup. And he created their late item last November in T&T’s 2-1 win in Guatemala City.
When Ruiz is not creating mayhem on the ball, he is causing it off of it.
In the Gold Cup, the 36-year-old Municipal player escaped unpunished with an elbow into defender Daneil Cyrus’ midriff and a stamp on goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams. And Hart has warned his players not to be provoked by his antics.
Guatemala will be eliminated tomorrow with any result but a win and, Hart has reiterated, there is nothing they will not try to get it.
However, if the last two meetings are an accurate guide, Trinidad and Tobago have far more ways of hurting their Central American guests than the other way around.
The Warriors scored once from a corner kick at the last Gold Cup, courtesy of Sheldon Bateau, and will not be short of aerial menace with the likes of captain Kenwyne Jones and any one from Radanfah Abu Bakr, Yohance Marshall and Carlyle Mitchell.
Twice, Hart’s troops got goals directly off a high press—Cordell Cato and Khaleem Hyland—as the Guatemalan three-man defence is not quite as elegant on the ball as the visitors would like to think.
And Joevin Jones conjured up two items from counter attacks—he scored one himself and set up a beauty for his namesake, Kenwyne—while his athleticism and dribbling skills so terrified his opponents that they used two markers to try to contain him in Guatemala City.
Guatemala coach Walter Claveri may be dismayed to realise tomorrow that, with Levi Garcia on the other flank, they now face double the trouble. While playmaker Kevin Molino, who was injured for their last two clashes, offers a different dimension through the centre as well for the host nation.
Trinidad and Tobago were allowed just one training session on the Hasely Crawford Stadium this week before this evening’s 45-minute practice, due to weather conditions and drainage issues at the venue.
Facility manager Anthony Blake conceded to Wired868 that the 34-year-old national landmark is in dire need of dramatic renovation and, once again, there will be fingers crossed when stadium officials flick the light switches on match day.
The Hasely Crawford Stadium is pretty shabby these days. But it is home. And Trinidad and Tobago must defend it with everything they have tomorrow night.
One more positive result and the Warriors can look forward to brushing shoulders with the confederation’s top teams at the business end of the World Cup qualifying campaign, for the first time since 2009.
As if there was not enough at stake already, Hart admitted his technical staff is worried by rumours that TTFA president David John-Williams is actively considering wielding the axe, regardless of the team’s success.
“You are at the mercy of those who make those decisions,” said Hart, in a previous interview. “And to tell you the truth, I have come to the conclusion that I am just going to go on the field, work with the players, do what I always do.
“Hopefully with all things and a bit of luck, things go well for us and we get in to the hex. And then if decisions are made one way or the other, I will have to accept it.”
Molino insisted that the players will be fighting not just for themselves and their country but their coach too.
“Coach Hart has been a great asset to the team,” Molino told the TTFA Media. “He is a great person and when you look at the team you can see every players wants to fight and give him the results he wants.
“And together as team we will go out there and give our hearts for the country.”
The players and technical staff will hopefully be on the same page tomorrow. And the Warriors would love their supporters to make themselves heard and push them towards the finish line too.
Time to roar.
(Trinidad and Tobago squad)
Goalkeepers: Greg Ranjitsingh (Louisville City FC—USA), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Adrian Foncette (Police);
Defenders: Aubrey David (FC Dallas—USA), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes—USA), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids—USA), Radanfah Abu Bakr (JK Silame Kalev—Estonia), Sheldon Bateau (KC Krylia Sovetov—Russia), Yohance Marshall (Murcielagos FC—Mexico), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E Land—Korea Republic);
Midfielders: Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge—England), Khaleem Hyland (KV Westerlo—Belgium), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery—USA), Kevan George (Jackson Armada FC—USA), Hughtun Hector (W Connection);
Attacking Midfielders: Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar—Netherlands), Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues—USA), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders—US), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—USA), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos FC—Mexico);
Forwards: Kenwyne Jones (Central FC), Shahdon Winchester (Murcielagos FC—Mexico).
TTFA Advisory for patrons:
Fans are advised that NO TICKETS will be on sale at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday and they are requested to purchase tickets at the Lotto Locations, which will be available up for TT$300 (covered stands) and TT$150 (uncovered stands) until 7pm on Friday.
We are requesting that the following guidelines be adhered to:
—No large Knapsacks
—No alcohol to be brought into the Stadium by spectators
—No musical instruments unless previously authorised by the TTFA
—All spectators will be scanned via Walk through scanners on entry
—All spectators are asked to have their ticket in their hand to show on entry into the Stadium just prior to being searched at that Check Point
—As much as possible, other than motor vehicle keys, spectators are asked to refrain from walking with any type of metal object, to prevent a secondary check.
—All ticket holders for uncovered stands are to enter through the St John’s Gate (Gate 2)
—All ticket holders for the covered stands are to enter through the Lion’s Gate (Gate 3)