Football fever as Trinidad makes World Cup

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The Independent US

The soccer-mad Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago came to a euphoric standstill yesterday as an official public holiday was declared to celebrate the national football team's qualification for the World Cup finals.

Street parties, which erupted seconds after the final whistle was heard in Wednesday's 1-0 victory against Bahrain, went on all day and all night in the capital, Port of Spain. Strangers hugged and wept as a sea of red - the so-called Soca Warriors' colour - swamped the streets. Motorists, with scarlet pieces of fabric tied on their cars, switched on their lights and honked their horns well into the early hours. Everyone from grey-suited office workers to schoolchildren danced their way through the streets, waving white, black and red national flags.

"I don't care if we ever win a match in Germany, this victory is the real celebration for me," said a taxi driver Hosein Mohammed, who drove triumphantly through the city while his passengers bounced around in his car, rocking it back and forth in the traffic.

For many fans, it was a chance to soak in the unfamiliar sensation of victory. The Soca Warriors, named after the Caribbean nation's idiosyncratic blend of music, have come nail-bitingly close to the World Cup finals twice, but missed out, first to Haiti in 1973, then to the United States in 1989. This year's success is an impressive achievement for a nation which, with only 1.1 million citizens, is the smallest in next summer's competition.

Pearl, a retired civil servant, said the victory was special for her because, "as a Trinbagonian, I see myself as being recognised in the world - even though I'm not a football fan. When you see your country's name shown all over the world and you know that they're talking about you, especially in a positive light, you can't help but feel good".

Urging the people to give a hero's welcome to the returning Soca Warriors, Prime Minister Patrick Manning announced plans for mass celebrations that were to start yesterday at the capital's airport and continue with a much-heralded drive into the centre of the city.

Trinidad and Tobago, which has won the Caribbean Cup eight times, is the fourth Caribbean team to qualify for a World Cup finals, after Cuba in 1938, Haiti in 1974 and Jamaica in 1998.

And Trinbagonians will be hoping for more than just sporting success from the tournament. Many, like a 20-year-old student called Nailah, believe that Wednesday's victory could help ease racial tensions in the country. "I hope that the football can serve as a unifying force," she said.

Others feel sure that the win will imbue the people of the twin-island nation with a sense of possibility hitherto unknown. Amoy, a newspaper vendor in Port of Spain, says that she remembers the bitter disappointment of 1989 and hopes that, now, people will become more positive. "This shows that we could achieve anything," she said.

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