AFTER four years and missing the last two iterations, TT will be making their return to the Concacaf Gold Cup for the tenth time in our football history.
The last time TT competed in the biennial event, they played like one of the better teams in the tournament, took on one of the giants of Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), played arguably one of the greatest games in Gold Cup history and was later sent home on penalties in a game they believed they should have won.
With a change in the qualification process through FIFA’s addition of the Nations League, TT were able to qualify directly to the Gold Cup through participating in the FIFA World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal. Our group consists of perennial favorites USA, Panama who knocked us out back in 2015 and Gold Cup debutants Guyana.
For those who don’t know, the Gold Cup is Concacaf’s continental football tournament that is held every two years. Think of it as the Americas’ version of the European Championships or Africa’s Cup of Nations. From 1973 to 1989, the tournament was the gateway to the World Cup for Concacaf teams. From 1991 to 2017 the winner would represent the confederation in the now defunct FIFA Confederations Cup. As the Gold Cup, this would be TT’s tenth, but they have been active in 15 iterations of Concacaf’s continental tournament.
TT first took part in what was then known as the Concacaf Championships in 1967. Also referred to as the NORCECA Championships, this would be TT’s first crack in the tournament after not entering the inaugural tournament in 1963 and withdrawing from the second tournament due to scheduling conflicts with World Cup qualifying for the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England.
Ten teams participated in the qualification stage in two groups. TT would qualify through one of the group stages that was hosted in Jamaica under the title of the Red Stripe Trophy, finishing second in the group. TT were one of the six teams that played in a round-robin style final tournament that saw Guatemala win their only Gold Cup. TT finished fourth in the table with two wins and three losses, scoring six goals that came from players such as Alvin Corneal, Gerry Brown, Kelvin Berassa, Warren “Laga” Archibald and Pat Small.
After a fifth place showing in 1969, TT would later host the fifth edition of the Concacaf Championships in 1971. Fixtures were played in the Queen’s Park Oval and – at the time – King George V Park in Port-of-Spain, the Arima Velodrome and Skinner Park in San Fernando. TT didn’t play to the level the home fans expected however. After a 1-1 draw in their first game against Honduras, they would go on to lose 2 of their next three three games, including a 6-0 drubbing against Haiti. The third was a 2-2 draw against Cuba. After rounding out the competition with a 3-1 win against Costa Rica, TT would finish fifth in their home tournament, with Mexico winning the tournament for the second time.
The 1973 Concacaf Championships
TT would bounce back in 1973 when Haiti hosted the tournament for the first time. After winning their qualifying group that featured an 11-1 beatdown of Antigua and Barbuda, with hat-tricks from Steve David and Noel “Sammy” Llewellyn, TT looked like one of the teams to beat in a final round that featured host nation Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the Netherlands Antilles. Qualification for the 1974 World Cup was also on the line for the winner; the first time the competition would double as a World Cup qualifier. The nickname “el Hexagonal” was also used for the first time, even though six teams in the final round was the usual number of participants since 1965.
The 1973 Concacaf Championships were mired in controversy. TT would play Haiti on December 4, 1973. TT were looking to rebound after losing the opening game against Honduras, and Haiti would be riding momentum from a 3-0 win over the Netherland Antilles three days prior. The game would go on to favor Haiti in a 2-1 win butas El Salvador referee Jose Roberto Henriquez disallowed five TT goals (three goals in 20 minutes) in what looked like a one-sided affair. Together Henriquez and Canadian linesman James Higuet were banned for life by FIFA after the tournament. They would finish the tournament strong however, rattling off four straight victories, including our best victory against Mexico featuring goals from David who would go on to lead the tournament with seven goals, Archibald and Everald “Gally” Cummings. TT would place second, their best ever finish in a Concacaf tournament. They finished two points shy to Haiti, leaving TT fans feeling cheated at an opportunity at seeing their nation qualify for the World Cup for the first time in the nation’s history. After not qualifying for the next two tournaments and not making it out of the group stage in 1985, TT would have another opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, in 1989.
(To be continued)