Boyz seek to get points on the board in World Cup qualifiers
WORLD CUP senior men’s qualifying football competition is very difficult. Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz have been slapped with that harsh reality in their opening matches for the Qatar 2022 Finals, with a 2-1 away loss at Mexico last Thursday and Sunday’s 0-3 home thumping by Panama at the National Stadium in Kingston.
The degree of hardship in this high-level qualification expands immensely for a Jamaican outfit disjointed on and off the field, when they tackle Costa Rica today on a turf where they have never won, Costa Rica’s National Stadium, in San Jose. Kick-off is set for 8 p.m.
“We have to do some self reflection,” Head Coach Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s for us to look at what went wrong, how we fix it going forward and move on.”
All seven World Cup qualifiers in Costa Rica have resulted in defeat for Jamaica. The rate of concession has been quite exhorbitant, with the homesters bulging the net 23 times and Jamaica scoring only three times in qualifiers dating back to 1965.
That though, mirrors only the iceberg’s tip on Jamaica’s problems, partly owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; and other self-inflicted issues from the crazy late recruiting of British-based players.
In matches within the past week, the unsettling effects of those concerns were manifested in team play totally devoid of a coordinated approach and a Reggae Boyz outfit looking woefully lost within itself.
Now, faced with a crucial fixture, the Jamaica team is back to square one after its player-hounding, with most of the players back in Europe and not a point to show, as they occupy the cellar position in the eight-nation final round play-offs.
It is an astonishing turnaround and sequence of events. The British government placed Central American and South American countries on a red list due to high cases of coronavirus. So some clubs in Britain released players with a clause not to travel there.
For the Mexico match last week, only three of 15 Britain-based players travelled for the game. The others stayed behind with assistant coach Paul Hall and trained in Kingston.
Meanwhile, the next half of the Jamaica team played their heart out in Mexico. Only three were on the starting list for Sunday’s Panama match at the National Stadium - Andre Blake, striker Cory Burke and Kemar Lawrence.
Not even the man who scored the goal in Mexico, Shamar Nicholson, was on the start list.
For Sunday’s home match against Jamaica’s tough-to-beat Panama opponent, eight Britain-based players made the starting team, including West Ham star player Michail Antonio, of whom much was expected.
Whitmore said that the changes may have contributed to that loss.
“Coming out of Mexico and eight changes, I think the chemistry and cohesiveness would have played a big part,” he reflected.
The Britain-based players expedited into the starting team have since returned to their clubs in Europe.
The team is also without another of its experienced England-based strikers, Leon Bailey, owing to injury.
So for three straight matches, Jamaica will make wholesale changes to its team for a World Cup qualifier.
The mad team selection and losing results have piled up more pressure on Whitmore, with open calls for his sacking.
And, upon arrival in Costa Rica on Tuesday, players Lawrence and Norman Campbell faced deportation.
However, quick diplomatic intervention, including by Jamaica’s Sports Minister, Olivia Grange, resolved the issues. Another player, Richard King, was dropped last-minute from the squad in Jamaica due to visa issues, and replaced by veteran Je-Vaughn Watson.
Whew! World Cup football is not easy at all.
“I’m here to be a senior player, lead the guys in the right way, try to keep the group together. I’m here to try to help the team get some points on the board, or help the team to the World Cup,” Watson admitted yesterday.
“At a time like this I’m a natural, robust player, I break up plays, try to keep the unit together, try to build a vibe leading up to the game. Whenever we’re having fun you always get the best out of us,” he added.
Like Jamaica’s Boyz’, Los Ticos lost their last game - 0-1 at home to Mexico on Sunday. So they, too, will be very desperate for a win.
What Jamaica will be guarding against mostly is being that team that loses to every other in this Concacaf ‘Hexagonal’.
In the latest Jamaica-Costa Rico clash, Costa Rica won 1-0, lastly at the Gold Cup in group play barely a month ago, when Bryan Ruiz netted a second half penalty.
Blake is top notch, but it is always better for a team when defence provides strong protection that allows limited scoring attempts at its keeper. Jamaica’s marking and tracking was poor at weekend, and not all great against Mexico. This group displayed more heart and has shown that they can be competitive. But they will have to display consistency, confidence and composure, hoping that the strikers score and give them something to defend.
Damion Lowe, Lawrence and company will have to be sharp and given their recent showings, a central midfield shield appears necessary.
The Reggae Boyz midfield has not generally been good in its link-up play and settling the team, so much improvements are also required.
It is hard to imagine Nicholson not returning to the starting line-up and Cory Burke, his usual partner, can do some damage so they should be leading the hunt for goals. Javon East, surprisingly omitted against Panama after showing good poise and play off the bench in Mexico, is another goal promise, along with midfielder Junior Flemmings, who has been playing well off the bench and got a couple goals in the Gold Cup.
The Costa Ricans are one of the most skilful teams in CONCACAF. They are a slick-passing unit, which plays with big confidence at home and relied mainly on former Arsenal man, Joel Campbell, Ruiz, Ariel Lassiter and veteran central midfielder, Celso Borges against Jamaica at the Gold Cup.
Not much is expected to be different for this clash.