Back in 1989 I was sixteen and about to witness history in the making, as the Trinidad and Tobago National Team "The Strike Squad" was one point away from qualifying for World Cup 1990 in Italy. All that needed to be done was to draw with against our next opponent in the final qualification match and T&T would be on its way to Italy. The team that we had to play on the afternoon of November 19th 1989 was the United States Soccer team, who need a win to qualify. In the end, it only took one goal near the end of the first half and the U.S.A. booked their spot to Italia 1990, while T&T would have to wait for the next one to try again to do better.
Fast forward to 2005, our soccer team's qualification for Germany 2006 got off to a bumpy start with a loss to the U.S.A. in Port of Spain by 2-1, there were many chances to equalize but they just went everywhere but into the goal. In the following game against Guatemala in Guatemala they lost 4-1, but in the 3rd game they drew 0-0 with Costa Rica here in T&T. The Coach at the time Burthill St. Clair was replaced by Leo Benhakker, a Dutchman who had taken the Dutch and the Saudi Arabian national teams to previous world cup appearances. He made some drastic changes as new players were added to the mix as Trinidad and Tobago prepared to face Panama. At the end of that game Trinidad and Tobago earned their first win 2-0 over Panama here in Port of Spain, and it actually looked as though we had a chance. In the following game against Mexico the team went down 2-0 to the Mexicans in an away game. As the second round kicked off, T&T again lost to the U.S.A. by 1-0 but there was still the hope that we could qualify for the World Cup. Next was Guatemala and it was a home game. They scored early in the 1st half to lead by 1-0, but in the closing minutes of the half T&T equalized to go into halftime 1-1. As the second half kicked off Guatemala went up 2-1, some anxious minutes later T&T equalized 2-2. but it did not end there, in less than a minute T&T went ahead 3-2, and that was where the game ended. Next was Costa Rica and another loss 2-0. But there was still Panama and Mexico left to play. In Panama T&T won by 1-0 and geared up for the final game against Mexico. In a really hard fought game, T&T came from behind to win 2-0 and clench the 4th place finish in the Concercaf Zone. While the top three teams qualified, T&T still had a chance to qualify as they had to play a home and away game against the 4th place team from Asia, Bahrain.
On Saturday 12th November, in front of a sold out crowd of die hard supporters, it was expected that T&T would win handsomely and head off to Bahrain with some sort of cushion. Well, T&T had to come from a goal down to scrape out a 1-1 draw against Bahrain. For some the mood was that it was all over, no way the team was going to win in Bahrain. Others still kept the faith and believed that in the away game T&T would manage to get the win. Wednesday 16th November, 12:00 noon. All eyes were glued to television sets and all ears were glued to radios as all of T&T tuned in for the game. After a goal less first half the second got off with a bang as T&T scored from a corner kick. While they held the lead, there were still a lot of time left in the game. For the remainder of the match I was upstairs doing the 2Ps, pacing and Praying for victory and for the game to end. What I remember the most about the end of the game, was that my mother and sister had just stopped by to drop off lunch. My bother had just finished his when I heard shouts of joy from downstairs, that was the signal! The game was over, Trinidad & Tobago had beaten Bahrain 1-0 to book the first ever appearance in World Cup.
All over Trinidad and Tobago people were celebrating more than I had ever seen them do before. It turnded into a Carnival type atmosphere, minus the costumes. Horns were honking, people were cheering and flags were waving; the entire nation was happy!!. I'll write more about the celebrations a bit later on, stay tuned.