Saturday, June 10, 2006

Shaka N’ Awed
By Ben Valentine

In a game with 22 men, it’s rare that one player can stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Yet ask Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Larsson and Fredrick Lunjberg who they’ll be seeing in their nightmares over the next few days and the answer should be unanimous; Trinidad and Tobago goalie Shaka Hislop.

Hislop played the best game I’ve ever seen a goaltender have at the World Cup, at a few times single handedly keeping Sweden off the board. He was better than Brad Friedel’s was against Korea in 2002. The unquestioned man of the match, he was the main catalyst behind Trinidad and Tobago’s upset draw against heavily favored Sweden. While the Soca Warriors could not muster much offense, Hislop did not need a goal to be successful today. 0-0 was how it began and 0-0 was how it ended before a packed house of 65,000 in Dortmund, Germany.

Huge underdogs coming in after poor performances against Wales and the Czech Republic, Trinidad had already been deemed the nice story whose greatest victory was making the World Cup. The commentators handed the Soca Warriors the loss ten minutes in, saying the team and the fans were “so gracious in defeat”. But then the commentators also took nearly twenty minutes to realize Hislop was in net, rather than Kelvin Jack. It was a harbinger for things to come. Gracious in defeat? We’ll have to wait until the Warriors play England before we find that out. This is why they play the games.

Outside of Hislop, the most impressive thing about the Soca Warriors today was their defensive positioning. Coach Leo Beenhakker deserves full marks for that. Rarely did Sweden get a clear chance as Dennis Lawrence, Syd Gray and Brent Sancho were huge across the back. Also impressive defensively was midfielder Carlos Edwards, who dropped to the back after Avery John was sent off on a poor call at best. The end result was increasing frustration on the part of Sweden, who settled for long balls and crosses rather than the precision passing which nearly saw them go up 1-0 early.

While Stern John wasn’t much of a factor, it clearly wasn’t going to be about him. Beenhakker had the Warriors playing defensive all game and when they were set, they were near impossible to crack. The best chances for Sweden came on the counter, but the Trinidadian defense held strong enough. Their confidence in dealing with corners allowed them to play the ball out if they got into any trouble, and with good reason. Not once did Sweden get a quality chance from a corner kick. To go along with their excellent positioning, the Soca Warriors had size. The huge 6-7 Lawrence towers even over the 6-4 Ibrahimovic.

Perhaps flying under the radar was Dwight Yorke. The longtime face of the Soca Warriors, at least outside of Trinidad and Tobago, had made his name known as a striker. But today he was the leader on defense, spending far more time in the Soca Warriors’ penalty area rather than Sweden’s. Yorke even picked up a yellow card for a delay of game; but it was an underrated move. Sweden, realizing the Soca Warriors were hard to crack when they were set, were going for a quick restart on a free kick. With the kick to the left corner of the penalty area, Yorke delayed so that his defense could reset. It cost him a card, but the decision was well worth it.

The Warriors never mustered a real threat, though Cornell Glenn, a second half substitute came on strong, blowing a shot past Swedish netminder Rabi Shaaban that found the cross bar. It would have been nice had it found the back of the net instead, but few fans of the Soca Warriors will lament the chance.

Sweden played its best early on; the completely dominated the first twenty minutes. But despite losing John thirty seconds into the second half and playing with ten men the rest of the way, the Soca Warriors actually managed to level things a bit. Possession was 57-33 after the first half in favor of Sweden; the end result was a 54-46 split, meaning in the teams nearly had equal time of possession in second half.

But when comes right down to it, Hislop was the story. The lone Soca Warrior in the English Premiership, (West Ham), played top flight goal today. He was everywhere he needed to be whenever the Warriors defense bent. But because of him, it did not break.

Seven shots on goal to one. Eight corners to one. Eleven men vs. ten. But in the end only one number matters:


Before, the greatest victory in the nation’s history was a 1-0 victory over Bahrain in November. Now, their greatest win is in fact, a scoreless tie.

Never thought a nation could get so excited for a draw, eh? Well it’s a point out their first World Cup appearance when most thought they’d be lucky to get one. Now they’ve got that one point, in the bag, in one game, against one of the best teams in the world.

Next up, England.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

is only one to make a statement and an example ,and I see we as the underdog made it.Proud trini

7:59 PM  

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