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Chance of a lifetime

T&T eyeing big win in dream matchup with England

Posted: Wednesday June 14, 2006 11:58PM; Updated: Thursday June 15, 2006 1:11PM
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Dwight Yorke (left) and the Soca Warriors will see familiar faces in Thursday's matchup with England.
Dwight Yorke (left) and the Soca Warriors will see familiar faces in Thursday's matchup with England.
Alexander Heimann/Bongarts/Getty Images

If Hollywood were running the World Cup, plucky Trinidad and Tobago would frustrate mighty England throughout their clash on Thursday, keeping the score 0-0 into the dying minutes, when goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who plies his trade in England, would make an impossible save (perhaps off a penalty kick yielded by the overly aggressive and overmatched Soca Warrior) before Dwight Yorke, the onetime star of England's biggest club, would tuck away the winner seconds before the final whistle, giving the smallest country in the tournament a 1-0 win over its former imperial master.

Of course, that's not likely to happen. Yorke is more of a defensive midfielder now, so he's not really in the business of scoring goals. The rest of it sounds pretty doable, though.

In Saturday's highly entertaining 0-0 draw with Sweden (next time a soccer hater mocks a nil-nil draw, show him the tape), T&T got a result that gave an already soccer-mad nation (when the Soca Warriors qualified, the island shut down for a national holiday) reason to crank the party into overdrive. (T&T is ranked No. 48 in the world; Sweden is No. 16.) Playing with 10 men for the second half, T&T somehow kept the ball out of its own net, thanks largely to the acrobatics of Hislop.

It was the kind of performance that fans couldn't help but enjoy. Hislop said that before the game, 70 percent of the stadium was in yellow, and when it was over, 95 percent were singing for Trinidad and Tobago. His elation might have caused him to inflate the numbers a bit, but there's no denying that the Soca Warriors have become the tournament's darlings.

"We made a lot of friends out there," said Hislop. "We got a lot of fans and we earned a lot of respect."

The amazing thing about the game is that it wasn't even the one T&T was psyched about. That would be the England game. Eight Soca Warriors play in the UK, six in England. With the exception of Hislop, who led West Ham to the FA Cup final, they're all lower-division players.

"From the moment of the draw last December, they were focused on being in the same group with England," said Trinidad and Tobago's Dutch coach, Leo Beenhakker. "And I can understand that. Especially the younger guys, they're seeing every week their big heroes playing all over the world in great teams, and now they have to play them. It's a dream."

It's even a dream for some of the older guys who don't play in England.

"It's very special," said the 34-year-old Yorke. "In a million years we never thought we'd be playing against England in a World Cup."