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Although admitting his team isn’t 100 percent prepared, Defence Force head coach Ross Russell is confident that the returning Army won’t be a pushover. “We are always prepared to fight,” said the two-time Digicel Pro League winning coach. “…we are the Defence Force! But I’m not sure of our sharpness.”
Defence Force will be coming off a month-plus-long stand-down when they meet Central FC in a rescheduled round two fixture today at the Ato Boldon Stadium from 6 pm.
“We would (only) know (our sharpness) as the game goes along,” added Russell. “We haven’t played in about a month and a half, while the other teams have been playing week in, week out.
“We are probably 75 per cent ready. We had no practice matches… only the scrimmages in training over the last few days. The game (against Central) will be tactically played in different parts.”
The defending league champion, Defence Force, was on a four-match undefeated run before a self-imposed suspension of all sporting activities at national, regional and community levels was issued by the T&T Defence Force (TTDF) on January 10.
The suspension came following Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s call to use every possible resource in the fight against the spike in violent crime, which at the time, led to 22 murders just 10 days into 2014.
The suspension was lifted last week. Now Russell and assistant coach Marvin Gordon, and such players as Devorn Jorsling, Kevon Carter, Curtis Gonzales, Richard Roy, Jerwyn Balthazar and Corey Rivers can resume their efforts in defence of the league title. However they stand without first choice goalkeeper, Kevin Graham, who is on a promotional course towards the rank of corporal.
The soldiers are positioned seventh on the nine-team standings with 13 points, 20 points away from leaders W Connection (33 points), but have seven games in hand.
Central, meanwhile, sits sixth on the standings with 20 points, the same number held by fifth-positioned Caledonia AIA.
Central’s Willis Plaza, scorer of three goals in the last two matches, and former Defence Force utility player Samuel Delice, the opening scorer against Jabloteh on Friday, should be key components in Terry Fenwick’s side, which will not feature the ineligible striker Rundell Winchester who is suspended on an accumulation of bookings.
The Sharks defeated the soldiers 3-1 in round one and are undefeated in their last eight league matches, but only snapped a six-match winless streak last Friday with a comprehensive 4-1 win over San Juan Jabloteh.
“Undefeated don’t mean anything to me,” Russell responded in relation to Central’s run of form. “We are coming to try and win. We are starting back in terms of trying to defend our title and they will have to run their hearts out to try and beat us.”
Russell, a former T&T and Defence Force goalkeeper, will also lead the soldiers to this season’s Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship in March, which also serves as the regional qualifying competition to the Concacaf Champions League.
Defence Force will contest Group 3 of the Club Championship hosted in Jamaica from March 21-25, against Guyana’s Alpha United, Suriname’s Sporting Vereniging Notch, and home-team Habour View FC.
At the same time last season’s Pro League runners-up, Caledonia, will contest Group Two against Sportive de Mirebalais of host country Haiti, Inter Moengotapoe of Suriname and Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC.
While Group One will be contested in Puerto Rico, with Centro Dominguito of the Netherlands Antilles, Unite Saint Rosienne of Curacao, Cayman Islands outfit Bodden Town and home team Bayamon FC making up that group.
The winner of each group will advance to the semi-final round.
“We will definitely be ready for the CFU,” said Gordon last week. “We want to go and top our group and advance to the next stage of qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League.”
“We are very confident in our players at the moment, for the tasks ahead. Our players love playing football and being away for the last month, they now have the hunger and thirst to get back to it.”