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Published: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Trinidad and Tobago’s Kevan George, right, heads the ball under pressure from Panama’s Blas Perez during their 2018 Russia World Cup qualifier in Panama City on Tuesday. PHOTO: AP PHOTO

All of Trinidad and Tobago, and sporting fans in particular, are today hurting over the Soca Warriors’ elimination from 2018 Russia World Cup contention. A slim mathematical chance existed before then, but the dream was finally shut to T&T on Tuesday night when Panama cruised to a 3-o win against them at the Estadio Rommel Fernandes in Panama City.

The result would not have hit home as hard had stand-in skipper Sheldon Bateau’s men given a much better effort in this match and in the previous one against Honduras at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

The psyche of fans yesterday was low, as they recalled how easily the team—after showing some initial promise and hope for a desired result—surrendered goals against the Panamanians.

In this regard, Tuesday’s result was a bitter pill to swallow for both fans and coach Dennis Lawrence.

Lawrence tried hard to keep his emotions contained during the post-match press conference. But in eventually accepting his side had been outplayed, he offered, “We have to find a way to dust ourselves off as soon as possible and move on. We have to start looking ahead to the future.”

Truth be told, this was the team’s seventh straight defeat in the Concacaf Zone final round qualification table, leaving them with just three points and two games left. Mexico (18 points) have already qualified for Russia while Costa Rica (15 pts) and Panama (10) are in position to secure the other two automatic spots.

The only consolation for T&T now is to perhaps deny the United States (9 pts) an automatic qualifying spot, if they (US) are in this position then, as the Americans did to T&T in 1989 when they denied then skipper Clayton Morris’ team a place in the 1990 World Cup in Italy with a 1-0 victory at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

But even now, on the basis of what they have seen of team T&T, the fans know achieving this is a fleeting dream. Lawrence’s men have managed only flashes of brilliance in their current run in the “Hexagonal” series. Consistency has been a major issue and but for a few bright areas, the team has always been behind the eight ball, especially against the more technically versed teams.

Of course, there are now those calling for Lawrence’s head. They are pointing to the team’s run under former coach Stephen Hart, noting he was able to bring the team to a level where it was felt they could challenge the best in the Concacaf region.

But harping on the past will do the neither the fans not the team any good and it is the future we must now look towards. Lawrence already recognises this, noting he has to put together a team for the 2019 Caribbean Cup campaign.

Of course, the ultimate goal will be to ready a young core for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. In that regard, the T&T Football Association is facing a critical decision—whether to give Lawrence a chance to build for the future or end his tenure now and hand that responsibility to another candidate.

There are other things which have to be assessed as well. The TTFF is still unable to finance its own way, with a trickle down effect being its inability to fund teams’ preparations for tournaments like the World Cup and retaining and paying quality coaching staffs. Then there is the talent pool and how we develop it from the youth level upwards.

This newspaper hopes that the right decisions will now be made. We have seen what the Soca Warriors’ qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany did for the country and we would love to return to that place.