T&T Regroups and Refocuses for Panama

Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Footballers are left with no other option but to go into Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez with a positive outlook that can force nothing but a victory.

Following the teams’s last training session at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Sunday morning before its departure for Panama City at 5:30pm on Sunday, head coach Dennis Lawrence had before him a 23-man squad that was slowly dusting themselves off and regrouping before their next assignment. The campaign has come down to this, where a World Cup appearance ambition for some of the players at least, could be over in 90 minutes.

But it’s not the first time a Trinidad and Tobago team has had to lift itself out of the deep end. Just take it back to September 3rd, 2005. T&T 1-0 down to Guatemala after three minutes and needing nothing but a win to keep the slightest of chances alive for Germany qualification. Of course the selection was different then. Russell Latapy on the return and Stern John was the double winning goalscorer with goals in the 85th and 86th minute as the Hasely Crawford Stadium erupted in the closing minutes. Current head coach Dennis Lawrence was part of the players set up and John is now an assistant coach with the squad.

“It’s not impossible,” John told TTFA Media. “I’ve been there before, we’ve been there before as players and as a nation so we know what it is to comeback from the dead. I remember looking at the clock around the 80th minute and thinking something has to happen but it’s not looking good at all for us. But we had that belief and we didn’t throw the towel in at any point. I think it’s a similar scenario now just that we know what the situation is before the first whistle goes,” John said.

“We’ve got to go there thinking the result is within reach but we have to pull it all together and fight it out right down until the last whistle. The squad has players that can help us get the result we need in Panama. But mental strength and a desire to do it is what we’ll have to show on Tuesday.”

T&T head coach Dennis Lawrence speaks to Jan Michael Williams during practice on Sunday morning/TTFA Media. Photo at top shows the players during the warm-up on Sunday.

Experienced current national team defender Radanfah Abu Bakr opened the scoring for T&T in a 2-1 win over Panama at the same venue in a friendly in 2015. And looking at the scenario from a team standpoint, he knows it’s make or break for the team on Tuesday.

“We are getting off the disappointing result. We didn’t perform the way we should have, particularly in the first half. But we want to take the good things from that night and improve on the bad things from that game. All focus is on the next game. We know we have beat them before in the Hex and as a matter of fact, we got a win the last time we played them in Panama and therefore we are confident of being able to turn it around,” Abu Bakr told TTFA Media.

“This could be the last World Cup campaign for a lot of us. Some of us are approaching thirty or over thirty already so we know this may be our last shot. It’s of course mathematically possible, We have to get three points against Panama and taking that momentum into the last two games. We have to recognise that this is our last chance.

“We have to show the character that we have in us and I think there is still that belief that we can do it. We have catching up to do. It doesn’t take much to change the mood within a camp. Maybe we need a spot of brilliance from someone, we need to just be solid and be together and back each other. We really have to believe in our abilities.

The Lithuania-based defender is aware that the team has not left the best of impressions on the fans after Friday’s result.

“It’s understandable that the fans are not happy. This is football and there will be ups and downs and when you are really down is when you need then backing of your real fans and the people who are behind you to really rally you and get you back to the top, Abu Bakr concluded.

The T&T team is expected in Panama City around 9pm and will train at the Match Stadium on Monday evening ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.

T&T have won two and lost three out of the previous five meetings between both nations dating back to 201o. Overall, T&t have won 12, lost five and drawn five since the first meeting in 1978

Kick off on Tuesday is 9:05pm (10:05pm TT time).