Monday 12th June, 2006

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Warrior spirit wins fans at Dortmund

Trinidad and Tobago’s first appearance at a World Cup match was already an occasion for the history books, marking not only this country’s debut at the zenith of soccer’s championships but also the arrival of the smallest country ever to qualify.

That declaration of our talent to population quotient may be the most potent message that this country can take to Germany and from there, to the world stage.

For much of the last century, Trinidad and Tobago has quietly but emphatically delivered a supply of talented contributors to global fields of endeavour. Our writers, artists, scientists, beauties and thinkers have been part of a return to the first world of sensibilities shaped by the effortless grandeur of these two islands and the fruits of a true blending of races and cultures.

As we have learned from each other, we have in turn, taught the world.

This week’s lesson came from a team that has fought for decades to gain entry to the World Cup, and having arrived there, earned justifiable accolades for a performance that was as intriguing as it was enthusiastic.

In a match with a top ten team that the world had dismissed as a forgettable requirement, the Soca Warriors won increasing enthusiasm from commentators and a vocal crowd with their display of unrelenting commitment from the first whistle to the last.

The team, sprinting onto the field to take their places, clearly understood that this was their D-Day, their day in Dortmund, to let the world know that they were far more than an interesting footnote on the field of play, that this country could produce not just footballers of skill, but men, people of heart.

But the match was no mere walk in a Deutschland park. Before the game even began, first line goalkeeper Kelvin Jack was sidelined, unable to reconcile a lingering injury with what was required of him in this match.

In some ways he set the tone for what was to come, letting his coach know that he wasn’t ready for this game and stepping aside for Shaka Hislop, whose skills would be well tested in the 90 minutes to come. He was the second member of the first pick side to lose an opportunity to walk the grass at Westfalenstadoin, joining stopper Marvin Andrews on the sidelines to make way for the best team possible.

Both Hislop and Brent Sancho, Andrews’ replacement got off to a shaky start, Hislop out of position for a crucial early corner and Sancho fighting to take the measure of Sweden’s massive strikers, but the first half was very much an exercise in the team finding themselves on the field.

If the first half was a surprise for football fans the world over, with a first-time team going head to head with an 11-time qualifier and acquitting themselves admirably, it was the second half that would apply the heat in which the Warriors would forge their reputations.

Within minutes of the resumption of play, Avery John’s strong tackle of Sweden’s Christian Wilhelmsson earned him a red card from Singapore’s Shamsul Maidin and dismissal from the field. The ignominy of it was shadowed by the realisation that the team would be facing strong opposition one man down.

It was here that the team pulled together, not just on the field but also from the sidelines, with Coach Leo Beenhakker constantly reshuffling the line-up of the team, keeping the Swedes off balance.

The team will face fresh challenges in the coming weeks, from strong teams that are now going to be preparing to face T&T footballers who have no intention of bowing to the reputations of their foes.

“All possibilities have opened to us,” artist LeRoy Clarke told reporters after seeing the team play. But we’ve always known that. The Soca Warriors are not the first to take the world’s stage and excel, but they have proven our potential at one of its most public venues.


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