The Times have run a special feature on Vale winger Chris Birchall’s World Cup dream – you can read it on the onevalefan website
Birchall emerges at heart of unlikely Caribbean dream
By Richard Edwards
The Potteries may seem a million miles from Port of Spain, but when Trinidad and Tobago run out for their final World Cup qualifier against Mexico this evening, fans of Port Vale will have more than a passing interest in events. That is because Chris Birchall, a local lad, will be playing alongside the likes of Dwight Yorke, Shaka Hislop and Stern John. Nothing strange in that you may think, except that Birchall is the first white player to represent the Caribbean islands in more than 60 years.
The Liverpool-born right winger, who qualifies for the country by virtue of his mother being born in Trinidad, made his debut in a 2-0 victory against Panama in June and has been a regular since, despite playing out of position. “I had never played in central midfield before,” he said. “They thought I could help with my passing ability and the way I organise midfield.”
Birchall’s grandparents emigrated to the Caribbean 50 years ago before his mother moved back to Britain in 1975. Trinidad discovered that the 21-year-old was eligible for their World Cup qualifying campaign and his emergence has coincided with an upturn in the country’s form.
A victory over Mexico or a defeat for Guatemala would be enough to earn them fourth place in their Concacaf group and a play-off against Bahrain or Uzbekistan for a place at the World Cup finals. It is something that looked unlikely when they had picked up only one point from three matches in the group, a run that led to Leo Beenhakker, the veteran Dutch manager, taking over as coach from Bertille St Clair.
Beenhakker’s team have beaten Panama home and away and Guatemala in Port of Spain to set up this evening’s showdown with Mexico, who have qualified. The match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium represents Trinidad and Tobago’s best chance of qualification since they were denied a place at Italia ’90 by a last-minute goal for the US.
After their 1-0 victory in Panama City on Saturday, courtesy of John’s goal after 62 minutes, Yorke said: “It’s an amazing feeling for the guys to keep this momentum going with such a hard win tonight and now it’s just up to us to seal it against the Mexicans.”
If they do it could spark a party to end all parties in Port of Spain, and possibly Burslem