By Terry Joseph
October 14, 2005
Hollywood's post-war treatment of the German word "Achtung" deliberately conveyed a sense of loss, every celluloid cameo propagandising death of the goose-stepping enemy but more deserving of its correct definition was Wednesday night's performance by the T&T Warriors, which betimes indicated the level of "attention" we must now accord the home-team.
Predictably, football fans and teams elsewhere will now begin to pay greater attention to the squad ranked 56th in FIFA's world standings that trounced fifth-placed Mexico, but here at home, a different kind of awareness is required at this yet fragile stage of the 2006 Soccer World Cup playoffs because, for Trinidad and Tobago, there are still two major hurdles to clear- both named Bahrain-before astute booksellers scramble to stockpile brochures titled "German Made Easy."
Not that we shouldn't revel in continuing celebration, for Wednesday was a time unlike any other in the more than 45 years I have been watching local football. My involvement was more than mere spectatorship, having accepted responsibility as producer of the pre-game entertainment package (many thanks to Jack Warner, Kenny de Silva, Lennox Toussaint, Geoffrey Lake et al); a task rendered worthwhile by the Warriors' performance.
But even with so stunning a victory by the Warriors, largely due to the efforts of striker Stern John, there remained those who would more so notice his failing to convert a penalty in the 31st minute, as though he was some kind of pioneer in this regard. Fact is, had his detractors paid more attention to the game's history, they would know better players than John have botched such opportunities and in infinitely more critical World Cup situations.
While it may appear that penalty kickers are heavily favoured, requiring only to execute a relatively simple function, FIFA's records indicate a failure rate of about 20 per cent in the five World Cup finals between 1982 and 1998. Of 211 kicks taken, only 161 scored. Simply stated, at the highest level of soccer one out of every five penalties is either saved or misses the goal altogether.
Among the list of famous players failing to fool goalkeepers with critical penalty kicks is the legendary Zico who, in the 1986 World Cup quarter final in Mexico, during a game between his country and France, tied 1-1 at the end of regulation time, his effort in a penalty-kick shootout was foiled by Joel Bats' brilliant save; leaving Brazil the eventual loser (4-3).
"Golden Boy" Roberto Baggio was the highest paid soccer player on the planet at the time of the 1994 World Cup finals, which was held in the US. After almost single-handedly ferrying Italy to the playoffs, Baggio missed a penalty in the ultimate decider that handed to Brazil the five kilogrammes of solid gold and malachite and of course, the victor's bonus of four years of bragging rights.
But this is more than enough space to answer Stern John's critics. Let us now turn our attention to Bahrain, the little-noticed Middle Eastern team Trinidad and Tobago will face twice in the next four weeks and the contingent that can stump this country's chances at getting to Germany for next summer's World Cup Finals.
Ranked by FIFA at 53, Bahrain's nil-nil home game draw with Uzbekistan last week Wednesday made the team eligible for a two-part showdown with Trinidad and Tobago, currently graded three slots lower; the first segment of that playoff taking place on November 12 and the second four days later.
Once considered under-achievers, Bahrain sharply enhanced its football profile in 2001 by upsetting Kuwait to reach the final round of the World Cup and one year later, by making it to the final of the Arab Cup; defeated by the Saudis on the basis of the golden goal.
Although the team's history shows a tendency toward losing to arguably beatable opponents, Bahrain has meanwhile-and without flourish or fanfare-earned the title as one of the most improved soccer sides in its grouping, particularly since ditching French coach Yves Herbert in 2003; giving us considerations to which we must pay serious attention.
On another note, we should also be awarding due attention to the results of growing public support for the Warriors, an improvement in game attendance rewarded with football that, on Wednesday, attained spectacular levels, indicating a connection we must continue to nurture if Team Trinidad and Tobago is to make it to Germany.
Indeed, overall, the price of advancing in this highly competitive arena is vigilance at every sequence or, as they say in Germany: Achtung!
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