We won't be going only as tourists

By ALEX MONTGOMERY, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 09:52 19 December 2005

Veteran coach Leo Beenhakker knows where Trinidad and Tobago, his latest and possibly last charges, rate alongside the company they will meet in Germany.

But there was an edge to his words that suggested Sven-Goran Eriksson and the rest will do well to respect the men from the Caribbean when they meet for the first time in Nuremberg on June 15.

Beenhakker's message is straightforward enough: Trinidad and Tobago will travel not to spoil the party but to help make it. And they will do that by being one of the few countries involved unconcerned by the weight of expectation.

"We will be there to enjoy ourselves," said the Trinidad coach. "If we came through the back door as the very last to qualify from our playoff against Bahrain, then we will leave through the front.

"We are not going to play under stress. Let's be reasonable, England are England. Trinidad and Tobago have a population of one and a bit million so you don't have to tell me there has to be a difference in quality between England, Sweden, Paraguay and ourselves.

"But that doesn't mean either that we are coming to these finals as tourists. We are not going only to participate in the Olympic ideal. No, we will prepare ourselves very well, try to do a good job, play our best and hope to be successful just like every other country."

This could be Beenhakker's last hurrah in a hugely-respected coaching career that has included spells with two of world football's greatest clubs, Ajax and Real Madrid.

He was also national coach of Holland when Bobby Robson's England reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Beenhakker accepts that Trinidad and Tobago are the whipping boys that the rest of the world always want to face.

But that made no difference to his optimism as he lit a celebratory cigar, the big concession he allows himself after giving up chain-smoking cigarettes.

"Our position is: 'Don't worry'," he said. "The group looks great to me as we are able to play against such an historic country as England and to meet Sweden and the South Americans. I like it.

"We know at this party all the countries are going to be strong but I am very happy. There won't be a dull moment."

Trinidad and Tobago's opening tie against Sweden on June 10 will bring Beenhakker face to face with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the striker he virtually discovered and took to Ajax but who has only recently approached his potential.

"He had a very difficult time like every young guy who joins Ajax", said Beenhakker. "I tried to help and I think we did a good job together. We certainly have a good relationship.

"Zlatan is not only a great player, that is acknowledged now, but also a great person. These are the qualities I saw in him and the reason Ajax paid big money (£5.7 million) for him. He has proved how good he is but there was a time when I was the only guy in Holland who believed in him."

He added: "How can I say what we will do? If I knew all that stuff I would live in a big house in the south of France. We make no promises, other than to enjoy ourselves."

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