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Sunday June 25, 2006

Trinidad welcomes winless Soca Warriors home as heroes


PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP): Trinidad and Tobago's soccer team didn't win a game or score a goal in its World Cup debut, but its Caribbean homeland welcomed the Soca Warriors back with a raucous street party and rally on Saturday as if they won the whole tournament. 

Music blared as the soccer side's fans danced behind slow-moving trucks carrying dozens of massive speakers along Port-of-Spain's main avenue, which was packed with raucous parade-goers decked out in the Warriors' red-and-black T-shirts. 

"They did us proud,'' said Ricky Waithe, dancing to thumping soca music. 

Felitia Campbell watched the celebration from her front yard. 

"We're this little dot on the world map and they made us known around the world,'' she said. 

Trinidad and Tobago, a twin-island nation of 1.3 million people, was the smallest country in size and population to ever qualify for soccer's biggest event. 

Although they finished last in their group, the Warriors accomplished a lot in their first World Cup. They fought heavily favored Sweden to a 0-0 draw in their opening match and then went on to hold former colonial ruler England scoreless until the 83rd minute of a 2-0 loss. 

In their final match on Tuesday against Paraguay, they went on the attack but still went down to defeat 2-0. 

Team skipper Dwight Yorke took the stage at the rally at Hasely Crawford Stadium to thunderous applause saying, "We proved to the world that we belong on the world stage!'' 

Prime Minister Patrick Manning said "The Soca Warriors made the name of Trinidad and Tobago known in almost every nook and cranny of the world.'' 

Manning gave the 24 members of the team the Chaconia Medal, Trinidad's second highest honor. He also approved a reward of US$167,000 (euro133,578) for each player. 

The oil- and gas-rich Caribbean nation's premier said qualifying for the next World Cup in South Africa in 2010 was a national objective. "We must be among the favorites in the next World Cup,'' he told the festive crowd. 

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