Trinidad & Tobago’s Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker has urged his players to focus on their final group match against Paraguay in Kaiserslauten this evening, despite his team’s unlikely bid for second-round qualification being reliant on events in Cologne where England face Sweden.
The ‘Soca Warriors’ can cause a huge upset and qualify for the knockout stage if they defeat the South American qualifiers this evening and England defeat Sweden comfortably. It would probably be the unlikeliest and proudest achievement of Beehakker’s long and distinguished coaching career should his team progress. 1000/1 outsiders at the start of the competition, their performances in drawing with the Swedes in their opening game and then losing to two late England goals last week in Nuremberg have captured the imagination of fans all over the world.
The outspoken coach, who was particularly critical of England’s tactics after the game last week, is insisting that he will be paying no attention whatsoever to England’s clash with Sweden at the RheinEnergie Stadion.
“It makes no sense at all to invest any of my time and energy in the England-Sweden match,” he told the press on Sunday.
“That game is not in our hands and we can do nothing about it. We have a small possibility to go through and we know what we have to do. To reach the third game of our group in this position is an achievement in itself and my players should be proud of themselves. My message to them is to focus only on Paraguay and then wait for the result of the other game.”
Despite being above Paraguay in Group B, Trinidad & Tobago will still enter this evening’s match as underdogs due to Paraguay’s rich World Cup tradition and the fact that they have many players based in Europe’s top leagues. It will be the third time that the two teams have met, following two draws in friendly matches in March 1989.
Captain and star player Dwight Yorke is hopeful that his team can register their first goal at this year’s tournament – a minimum requirement if the ‘Soca Warriors’ are to achieve their unlikely dream of qualification. He recognises that this goal may not come from him, following his withdrawal from his natural position up font into a holding midfield role.
“The goals have to come tomorrow against Paraguay, no doubt about that,” he said.
“Whether they will come from me, due to my new position, is not certain, but I’d love to score our first goal at the World Cup. It could prove to be the most crucial goal I’ve ever scored. It didn’t surprise me that the coach decided to put me back into midfield. My legs aren’t what they used to be, but I am honoured in a way. For him to have so much faith in me and put me in such a crucial position on the big stage is a huge compliment.”
Beenhakker could make two changes to the line-up that fared so well against England. Defender Avery John is available for selection again following his red card against Sweden in the opening match and is a ready-made replacement for Cyd Gray, who picked up a leg injury in the game against England. The other possible change, though more unlikely, is the replacement of the veteran West Ham goalkeeper Shaka Hislop with Kelvin Jack, who has recovered from injury. Before the finals Jack was Trinidad & Tobago’s number one, but Hislop’s impressive performances since taking over may mean that he keeps his place.
Pride is all that Paraguay have to play for this evening. They can count themselves unlucky to have lost narrowly to England and Sweden, both by 1-0 scorelines, in their opening two matches. These reverses have already sealed their fate and their bags have already been packed for their long journey home.
It is the first time since the 1958 finals in Sweden that Paraguay have failed to negotiate the group stage when they have qualified for the World Cup Finals. They enter tonight’s match on the back of three consecutive finals defeats, with their last victory a 3-1 win over Slovenia in 2002.
End of an era?
Tonight’s match could represent the end of an era and the beginning of a new one in terms of playing personnel. Centre-half Carlos Gamarra is Paraguay’s most capped international and will be making his 110th and final international appearance tonight, having announced his intention to retire from international football after Paraguay’s interest in the World Cup ends. On the other side of the coin, exciting midfielder Jose Montiel could become Paraguay’s youngest ever player at the World Cup Finals if he is given a chance to play by coach Anibal Ruiz. The 18 year-old Montiel forced his way into the squad after a series of impressive performances for his club side Olimpia Asuncion.
Montiel could be included at the expense of Jorge Nunez, who is rated doubtful due to injury. Paraguay have a further midfield headache in the shape of an injury to Carlos Bonet, who is likely to be replaced by Julio Dos Santos. Dos Santos is a club-mate of striker Roque Santa Cruz at Bayern Munich and is another great hope for the future of Paraguayan football. He is so highly rated at the Bavarian club that some insiders have earmarked him as a long-term replacement for Germany skipper Michael Ballack.
Ruiz is determined that his team ends on a high tonight, and is also hopeful that his much-vaunted strike-force can finally deliver Paraguay’s first goal of the finals. There were high hopes for Santa Cruz and his partner, Nelson Haedo Valdez, but both have disappointed thus far.
“We will do our best in the final match and there is no chance of me putting out a team of reserves,” he said on Sunday.
“We must do our best and at least try to score some goals – my biggest disappointment so far is that we have failed to do this. We have done our best though and I am proud of the players. They have no reason to blame themselves. The margin of defeat in both our games so far has been minute.”
By Mark Robinson
Paraguay: Bobadilla; Caniza, Caceres, Gamarra, Toledo; Dos Santos, Acuna, Paredes, Riveros; Santa Cruz, Haedo Valdez
Trinidad & Tobago: Hislop; Lawrence, Sancho, Edwards, A John; Whitley, Birchall, Theobald, Yorke, K Jones; S John
Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy)