The France 1998 crash
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

All dreams of Trinidad and Tobago earning a berth in the '98 World Cup Football Finals in France have disappeared.

Disenchanted by three months of heartbreaking football, local fans can clearly be seen winching at any cruel reminder of the once popular slogan and war cry, 'Road to France'.

Neither Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) nor its technical staff seem ready to go public with their analysis of the unsuccessful campaign. However while they muse over what went wrong, Guardian will use the time for recapping some of the landmarks in our bumpy and bumpier ride to nowhere which began on September 1.

Despite employing eight professionals, Trinidad and Tobago lost 1-0 to Costa Rica in a pathetic display. Fingers pointed everywhere, including at Yugoslav coach Zoran Vranes and players Russell Latapy, Dwight Yorke and Clint Marcelle.

Both Vranes and Marcelle were subsequently sacked and would probably recall the ominous words of former national coach and the head of the National Coaches Advisory Committee (NCAC), Edgar Vidale.

"We will not be reluctant in moving anybody who will hinder our progress."

It was a new combination of technical advisor Everald 'Gally' Cummings and Brazilian coach Sebastiao Pereira de Araujo at the helm for their next home game against Guatemala on October 6. There was now clearly an air of confidence around the former who remarked about his opponent,

"There is clearly something worrying these (CONCACAF) countries and it's the fact that years ago they used to beat us easily. But now the tables have turned...".

Individually, TT have definitely matured since '89 but when asked about team strategy it was obvious that Gally didn't think that Guatemala had matured any.

"I'll be looking back at my notes on them and see." (referring to notes from past clash with Guatemala, six years ago).

If he ever did find that 'old' notebook, it didn't do our cause much good as the game ended 1-all with an infamous 'pelting' fracas from supporters at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

A TT official was good enough to summarise the feeling of the players and staff.

"We recognise that the draw was not the ideal result... but it is not the end of the road for us."

Meanwhile overlooked English-based pro Clint Marcelle lashed out at TTFA.

"Imagine they called players who have shown in the past they don't really want to play for TT and, in the process, they refused players who really want to play. It's not right."

His plea fell on deaf ears as TT recalled only former Strike Squad player Leonson Lewis for their starting lineup against the US in Virginia. A 2-0 defeat was a crushing blow to all.

"I don't know what to say," said former Strike Squad defender Brian Williams, reflecting on the team's performance, "I'm still coming to grips with the reality of what I saw."

Frustration now abounded in the TT camp and everyone was having their say.

"The basis of national team selection is unfair," retorted young local defender Marvin Andrews, "Pros and locals have not been combining... on top of this, their efforts often do not compare to those of their local counterparts."

"Some of the players weren't angry enough after the game," said part-time national skipper and Lebanese-based pro David Nakhid, "and that made me very angry."

Cummings was also getting that bitter feeling.

"I don't know what is bothering them (pros), but everything has been put in place to get a good performance and I can't say that has been happening."

However the most memorable quote was reserved for TTFA secretary Dwight Day, and our footballing public will never know the extent to which his stance affected TT's already slim chances of qualifying.

"TTFA has to look at where we stand at this point in terms of winning the next three games without putting a strain on the coffers. We have no choice but to consider that."

With only four pros fielded (Nakhid, Yorke, Jerren Nixon and Anthony Rougier), TT had a spirited performance in front of their 'die hard' fans on November 24th... but once more the result was not in their favour. As far as many fans and players were concerned, TT were undone by 'poor' officiating from Barbadian referee Mark Forde. A point of particular contention was the game's only goal, which was scored by US striker Joe-Max Moore after a quick freekick.

Swiss-based forward Jerren Nixon voiced his opinion.

"Everybody who mattered seemed to be against us today!"

Former FIFA referee Osmond Downer would have none of it.

"It was a perfect, perfect goal."

Former Barbadian football coach Adrian Donovan also had some stern words for TT fans, players and media.

"Trinidad's problem was not the referee, they should instead concentrate on why they had five foreign coaches in the last four years!"

This time it was skipper Russell Latapy who failed to show for the game and was subsequently dropped from the team who would be the source of attack.

"We had to put our foot down this time," said TTFA president Ollie Camps, "... you cannot allow things like this to continue."

An upset 2-1 victory by Costa Rica over the USA closed the door on any remaining TT hopes of qualifications.

It is unclear whether Camps understood the full ramifications of that result when he stated.

"We have to ensure that we fight our remaining games... if you finish third you are next in line and you never know what might happen."

Somewhere within a painful and depressing campaign lies the true fault of local football.

Maybe exiled Scottish-based professional Arnold Dwarika was correct in his assesment.

"What really made matters difficult was the technical staff because they were not sure what they were doing - they were just guessing and hoping for us to win for them to claim credit... it was plain confusion."

Or perhaps it was experienced-head de Araujo who hit the nail on the head.

"Without organisation, without rules, without a base, you will spend money for nothing."

Maybe former TTFA president Peter O'Conner knows what he is talking about.

"I don't think we have developed anywhere in football since '89. Of course we have been producing some outstanding players, but that's about it. We have not improved our game."

Even Barbadian Donovan had an opinion.

"Trinidadians must accept the fact that they have fallen from the crest of Caribbean football, and maybe they are paying for the total mishandling of the former Strike Squad."

The people have spoken!