David Lacey savours the atmosphere of a World Cup match in the Caribbean
IN PORT OF SPAIN yesterday everyone was seeing red because the Americans were coming. The front-page headline in the Daily Express declared it a "red dawn" and the arrivals hall at Piarco airport was decked out in red banners with posters of the nation's heroes prominently displayed.
When that sort of thing happened in neighbouring Grenada the United States sent in the marines. Tomorrow, however, they will have to rely on their footballers when the elephant meets the mouse to decide the 24th and last qualifying place in the 1990 World Cup.
The odds favour the mouse. Trinidad and Tobago need only to avoid defeat to become the first West Indies team, and the first English-speaking country from the Caribbean, to reach the tournament proper. The teams are level on points behind Costa Rica, who have already qualified from the North and Central American group, but Trinidad have a better goal difference.
While the match will hardly have captured the imagination of the great American public, Trinidadians and Tobagonians can talk of little else. The radio networks are broadcasting hourly messages of support, the television is showing morale-boosting videos, and a pop song, Strike Squad, has been composed for the occasion by one Lancelot Layne Kebu. As extra insurance the island's church bells will sound for three minutes at kick-off time.
A crowd of 35,000 will back the National Stadium by the sea in Port of Spain tomorrow. Fifa regards the match as a high-security operation and its representative, Scotland's Ernie Walker, will be there to see that it is. Seven hundred police will be on duty, along with 1,000 members of the island's defence force.
The match will not only be shown live on television, but those without tickets can watch it on three giant video screens placed at stategic points around the island. Tobagonians are upset that the American-based company setting up the screens could not spare one for them, and they have asked the sports minister, Jennifer Johnson, to find out why.
"Tobagonians, who did not riot or smash property when the meagre 600 tickets sent by the Trinidad and Tobago FA for sale to the public here ran out, have to fork out for the air passage to Trinidad for the privilege of seeing their hero, Dwight Yorke, run rings around the Yankees," Compton Delph wrote in the Daily Express.
Yorke, an 18-year-old stiker who plays for Signal Hill in Tobago, so impressed Aston Villa when they played on tour in the Caribbean that they invited him to England for a trial and want to see him again.
There are only two professionals in the Trinidad side — Russell Latapy and Lee Lewis, who both play for Port Morrant in Jamaica. There is also a Rastafarian, Brian Williams, from Trintoc, an oil-company club; he is the man you notice first among the airport posters.
The Trinidad manager is Ollie Camps, who was in charge in 1973 when they lost their decisive qualifier to Haiti in suspicious circumstances. Trinidad had several goals disallowed, and later Fifa banned the referee and linesmen for life. Tomorrow's officials, originally from nearby Venezuela, are now Argentinian.
Trinidad are coached by Everald "Gally" Cummings, whose footballing philosophy owes little to the Howard Wilkinson school. "The football we play rightly reflects the mood of our nation," Cummings says. "It's relaxed football, calypso football. I don't think I follow any particular style, English or Brazilian. We have a Trinidad style, and we want to take calypso football to Italy."
Helping Cummings is a female psychologist, Shirley Odd-Rutley, who keeps the boys relaxed. Presumably someone else was responsible for the psychological barrage that met the United States team the moment they touched down.
With two of the Trinidad squad employed at the airport, it was perhaps only natural that the Americans' first impression was that it was hardly worth their while turning up. The story has gone round that the visitors wanted to land at the far side of the airport, skip the official reception and go straight to the VIP lounge. But wherever they alighted they were bound to end up in the red.
At one stage, with Mexico banned by Fifa for fielding over-age players in the World Youth Cup, the United States seemd to have an outstanding chance of going through. But since then goalless draws with Guatemala and El Salvador have undermined their advantage. It is 208 minutes since they scored a World Cup goal.
Hugo Perez, the last American to score in the World Cup, should be back in the side tomorrow after missing two matches through injury. Perez playes in the French Second Division for Red Star 93. "Hugo is an excellent playmaker and should help us," says Bob Gansler, the Hungarian-born coach. But he adds: "I shouldn't be surprised if Trinidad try to bury us straight away."
- The two remaining World Cup qualifying matches between Guatemala and El Salvador were cancelled by Fifa yesterday because of fighting between rebels and government troops in El Salvador.
- An estimated 120,000 spectators yesterday saw Egypt qualify for the finals beating Algeria 1-0 in the second leg of an African group third-round tie in Cairo. The first leg was a goalless draw.