Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors put collective smiles on the faces of all their compatriots yesterday, after they officially qualified for the prestigious Concacaf Gold Cup.
Skipper Khaleem Hyland’s men edged out a plucky French Guiana 8-7 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 tie in regulation at the DRV PNK Stadium in Florida to reach Concacaf’s showpiece event.
Skipper Hyland himself could do little in the dying stages after limping off the field with an injury in the first half. In the end, it took goalkeeping heroics from Nicklas Frenderup and a penalty conversion from Curtis Gonzales to do the trick.
While there were few Trinidadians in the stand to celebrate with the Soca Warriors yesterday, there would have been thousands celebrating collectively right here at home, in the Diaspora and wherever else Trinis reside around the world.
And for Hyland’s men, what a turnaround it has been.
Just weeks ago, T&T’s football had hit rock bottom once more when the team failed to reach the next phase of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
After embarrassingly bowing out from a group that included minnows the Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis, Guyana and Puerto Rico, then coach Terry Fenwick was deservedly fired last month. He was replaced by locally-bred Angus Eve, a former national player who has successfully transferred his playing knowledge to the coaching sphere.
Since then, Eve has not looked back. He has reportedly brought a breath of fresh air to the T&T team, with players finally smiling again on the training pitch.
That initially translated into a 6-1 victory over Montserrat in the team’s first Gold Cup qualifier last week in Eve’s first game at the helm, a display which many agreed had been one of T&T’s best in years. They followed that up with yesterday’s hard-fought win against a French Guiana team that was also pushing just as hard for glory, again under pressure with key players injured out and then with the loss of Hyland. But once again, the team showed that they have developed a newfound resolve by pulling off the victory.
The Soca Warriors will now be severely tested ahead, with the likes of Mexico, El Salvador and Curacao in the Gold Cup. In order to build on the current foundation, however, they will now have to be given the tools for further success.
But from here, Hyland, Eve and the team can only go up.
The question now is whether the FIFA Normalisation Committee under Robert Hadad will give Eve, who was given an interim tenure, the chance to continue the work he has started.
Either way, we also hope that the fans and corporate T&T will also do all they can to ensure the team gets all the support it needs going forward.