A glamour clash with World Cup champions Argentina in the opening game of the 2024 Copa America awaits, if Trinidad and Tobago's men’s footballers can defeat Canada in a qualifier at the Toyota Stadium in Texas on March 23.
This was confirmed on Thursday night at the Copa America draw at the Hyatt Regency in Miami, which saw representatives from the TT Football Association (TTFA) and other federations present.
The tournament kicks off from June 20 to July 14 with reigning Copa America winners and No 1 ranked Argentina looking to defend their title.
If TT, ranked 96th, can pull off an upset victory against the 48th-ranked Canadians, they will be placed in Group A alongside the Lionel Messi-captained Argentina, Chile and Peru.
TT football coach Angus Eve, who attended the draw alongside four other TTFA officials, said it was an “honour” to attend the draw, and a great opportunity to have a chance to face the globe’s best-ranked team.
“This is tremendous for TT football to have an opportunity to play in a tournament as illustrious as this. This is the oldest country tournament and we’re privileged to be here and to face the type of opposition that we may have the opportunity to face. It’s a blessing,” Eve told TTFA media.
He said the possibility of facing Argentina serves as “motivation” for his troops to go all-out against Canada in their final qualifier.
TT missed out on automatic Copa qualification when they were eliminated in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-final by USA, over two legs, in November. Canada faced a similar fate against Jamaica.
The other two losing quarter-finalists – Costa Rica and Honduras – also play a one-match playoff on March 23, at the same venue, for a spot in Group D with Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.
Eve said the draw serves as great motivation.
“Just for the guys to know they have the opportunity to play the world and Copa America champions, and the best player in the world (Messi), it’s motivation enough for the boys to come out.
“It’s motivation enough for the country to get behind the team, and every corporate (body) and government to get behind and support the team to prepare for such a massive opportunity.”
Although salivating at the prospects that await, Eve said TT should not get ahead of themselves, since Canada will be no walk in the park. He, however, welcomed the challenge.
“We were looking at the draw and were hoping that we got Mexico or Argentina to be honest. These are the type of games you want to play. You want to put these players through the rigours and have the opportunity to play some of the best teams in the world.
“But I just want to be mindful that we still have a job to do. We still have to play Canada which a very tough team, and we need to get over that hurdle first. And hopefully we have the excitement of playing in the Copa America.”
For the new year, Eve said he will continue working assiduously with his local crop of players, and will use January/February 2024 to improve their overall competitiveness. He made it clear that Carnival 2024 is not an option for his players.
“We’re trying to expose the locally-based players as much as possible within January and February, with training camps over the Carnival period. (We’ll) take the boys away from the Carnival a little bit.
“Hopefully, come March, we’ll have all the other foreign-based players that would join the group for a two-week camp to prepare for the Canada game.”
Soca Warriors captain Aubrey David also saw the draw as a “blessing” and believes the possibility of facing Argentina will bring out the best in the team.
A chance to play in such a prestigious tournament as Copa, he said, is a great confidence booster.
“Reaching to a Copa is a big plus for us as it will do a lot for us and the country. After seeing the draw, being able to face the World Cup champions and having other chance to play against them, I think it’s a lot of motivation.
“It’s no secret that everyone would like to play against Lionel Messi. Not only playing against them, but playing in that type of tournament – it’s a big boost. They guys are already motivated thinking about the Canada game.”
David rued their missed chances for automatic qualification but said, knowing they’re 90 minutes away from a historic Copa debut, the team is pumped. As captain, David believes the next three months are crucial, and wants to lead by example.
“I need to make sure I take care of myself, continue to play and get rhythm so I can lead from that standpoint. After every international camp, I tell the guys we need to continue to grow so when they go back to their clubs, to continue to put that extra work in because we already know we’re fighting for a bigger goal,” he added.
David admonished his teammates that now is not the time for complacency.
“Continue to take care of yourself and push. Because the more they do that they will continue to progress, grow in confidence and quality. If everyone keeps pushing themselves and we regroup to face Canada, we’ll be in a much better shape and form.
“We already have togetherness so once we continue to grow from there, the message to me is to continue to push themselves so we can achieve the collective goal, which is Copa qualification."
In 2014, TT faced Argentina, their second-ever meeting, in a friendly in Buenos Aires and lost 3-0. Messi played in that match but did not score.
Copa America groups:
Group A: Argentina, Peru, Chile, Trinidad and Tobago/Canada.
Group B: México, Ecuador, Venezuela, Jamaica.
Group C: USA, Uruguay, Panamá, Bolivia.
Group D: Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica/Honduras.