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Soca Warriors scrap friendly due to Covid-19 concerns, Phillips reveals W/Cup dream

The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team will not get the chance of a warm-up match before their opening Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifier against Guyana next Thursday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) confirmed today that a scheduled outing against Dominican Republic professional team, Atlético Pantoja, was cancelled this morning due to concerns about Covid-19 protocols.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick gestures to the media after training at the Police Barracks in St James on 3 July 2020.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Soca Warriors team doctor Akash Dhanai, according to the TTFA Media, felt that the testing undergone by the Pantoja players ‘[fell] short of the TTFA’s and Fifa’s medical standard’. As a result, the game was cancelled for the safety of the Trinidad and Tobago players.

In the past year, Fenwick has had proposed internationals against Canada, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Turks and Caicos all scrapped due to the pandemic.

The Warriors’ lone international game under the English coach was a 7-0 loss to the United States on 31 January, a joint national record, while they also faced—and defeated—Pro League teams Defence Force and Police FC along with several makeshift local sides.

Still, Trinidad and Tobago are no worse off in that regard than the ‘Golden Jaguars’, whose last international fixture was on 18 November 2019 when they held Jamaica 1-1.

Nine from the 11 starters on that squad were among the 23 Guyana players summoned by Brazilian coach Márcio Máximo to face Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. So, although there are a flurry of fresh faces in the Jaguars camp, there remains some know-how—despite the exclusion of 38-year-old England-based midfielder Neil Danns.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Mekeil Williams (foreground) tussles with Guyana midfielder Callum Harriott during Gold Cup action on 26 June 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo)

“I don’t select the players because [of] their CV or because [of] what they did, I select the players [based on] what we are doing and what they did for me—what I saw by my eyes,” Máximo told the Guyana Times. “[…] I select the players that are more adapted to my system; and the system today should be quick […] offensive transition [and] defensive transition. “

Thirteen of Guyana’s 23-man squad are under the age of 24 while four are teenagers. Thirty-two-year-old former Morvant Caledonia United goalkeeper Akel Clarke is the only player selected by Máximo who is over 30.

In contrast, despite early promises of unleashing youth, Fenwick was relatively conservative.

There were no teenagers in the Trinidad and Tobago squad while just seven from Fenwick’s 26 call-ups are under 24. The Warriors have six players who are over 30-years old: Marvin Phillip (36), Adrian Foncette (32), Radanfah Abu Bakr (34), Andre Boucaud (36), Khaleem Hyland (31), and Willis Plaza (33).

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Khaleem Hyland has a word with reporters during the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
(via TTFA Media)

International football is about winning, of course. And ages would not matter in a week’s time, once the Warriors do just that.

Watford FC midfielder Daniel Phillips is one of three 20-year-olds selected by Fenwick and he expressed joy at his first national senior team call-up—two years since he informed the TTFA of his availability.

Phillips, who plays with the Watford U-21 side rather than their senior Championship team, is the second cousin of Trinidad and Tobago 2006 World Cup defender Ian Cox. The England-born midfielder credited Cox for his desire to represent the red, white and black, and his dream to also play in a World Cup.

“It’s been a long time coming and I’m just really happy to finally be here,” said Phillips, who said he was impressed by the intensity of the Warriors’ training session. “Everyone’s welcomed me very well and I’m just happy to get to work. My dad was born and raised in Trinidad as well as my grandparents and I’ve visited the country already. 

Photo: Watford FC midfielder Daniel Phillips.

“My ambition is to go to the highest stage possible, so playing for Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup qualifiers is a big deal.”

Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana will square off in front of an empty stadium on 25 March, as the Dominican Republic’s FA confirmed that fans will not be allowed due to their Covid-19 protocols.

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  1. Dominican Republic itself is unsafe – their covid numbers are staggering…the players need to be kept away from the public there.