This is it, ladies.
After two near-misses, there’s no second, third or fourth chance after tomorrow evening’s showdown with Ecuador. It’s goalless from the first leg in Quito three weeks ago, so there’s everything to play for, not just for Trinidad and Tobago, but also for the Ecuadorians.
Make no mistake. The South Americans are here believing that this will also be their moment of glory, their chance to ruin the anticipated home celebrations and make it to next year’s Women’s World Cup finals in Canada as first-time participants, much in the same way that the hosts are seeking to become the first nation from the English-speaking Caribbean to reach the pinnacle of the female game.
Whether or not there is a full house at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, there will be nerves in the home camp. But it’s up to Maylee Attin-Johnson and her team to use that anxiety positively by staying focussed from first minute to last, whatever the situation. Momentary relaxation after taking the lead against Mexico in the third-place playoff of the CONCACAF tournament last month in the United States proved costly.
Even now, with a place in the finals so close, so many of us are still slow to buy into the significance of the occasion, dismissing it as “only” women’s football. We are bandwagonnists by nature though, so expect a bit of fervour, a bit of passion from people who hardly knew anything about the trials and tribulations of the team in getting to this stage where they are in with a better-than-even chance of filling the 24th and final spot for the finals.
Coach Randy Waldrum has acknowledged that playing at home will be tricky. A home crowd in excess of 15,000 will be unprecedented in women’s football in this country. Will the national players feel the sudden weight of expectation from countrymen and women who previously didn’t seem to even know that they existed? Will the roar and groans of thousands of voices be a boost or a burden?
Obviously a lot will depend on how the game unfolds. A win for either side clinches qualification, full stop, but a scoring draw (1-1, 2-2, etc) will earn the Ecuadorians a ticket to Canada by virtue of the scoreless stalemate in the first leg. So will they go for the early strike, knowing that it will put pressure on the hosts to score at least twice, or keep Trinidad and Tobago goalless and frustrated deep into the game while looking for the late item that will clinch the tie?
As we saw in the first game where they came on as second half substitutes seeking to take advantage of a tiring T&T team in the draining and disorienting altitude of the Ecuadorean capital, the nippy striking pair of Monica Quinteros and Elizabeth Caicedo are likely to pose the greatest threat to a defence that has been heavily reliant on the excellent Kimika Forbes in goal throughout this qualifying campaign.
There is talent and experience up front for the home side as well in the personalities of Kennya Cordner and Ahkeela Mollon, so an intriguing duel is in the offing. At the end of the day though, the team that prevails will more than likely be the one that is driven by the greatest desire from within.
In that sense, Trinidad and Tobago may appear to have overcome more hurdles (including being left stranded briefly in Dallas ahead of the CONCACAF tournament) in reaching this far. But the Ecuadoreans have also shown character on the pitch, rallying from a 1-2 halftime deficit to defeat Argentina 3-2 in the critical third-place playoff of South American qualifying to get to this decisive two-match duel with the red, white and black.
I suppose for us ordinary citizens who will never be called upon to deliver for an expectant nation, it is difficult to understand how anyone can stay calm and focussed ahead of such a big occasion. So maybe perspective is important at a time like this.
In a tearful tribute to his fallen teammate Phillip Hughes, Australian Test cricket captain Michael Clarke recalled on Friday how the ever-positive left-handed batsman would often say to his teammates: “Where else would you rather be boys, than playing cricket for your country?”
That’s a much better way to approach the challenge instead of being bogged down by supposed pressure and freezing up with anxiety and tension. It’s a privilege, it’s an honour to wear the national colours...and to be on the doorstep of history to boot.
So, where else would you rather be girls, than playing football for your country and taking us to the World Cup finals?