Focus now on World Cup qualifiers

Friday, December 14, 2012

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To describe the Reggae Boyz elimination at the first-round stage of the CFU Caribbean Championships as shocking is to put the case very mildly.

They entered the competition as big favourites, not only because they were the defending champions, but largely because of the high level of proven quality within the squad.

Also, expectations of the Jamaicans were high because they are the only CFU team still in contention for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.

We sense that the anger expressed by Captain Horace Burrell, as reported yesterday, has been triggered not just by the national team's elimination, but perhaps moreso, the "shambolic football" played by the Reggae Boyz.

But this is not a time for blind emotionalism. As they seek to respond to the situation, Captain Burrell and his executive must ensure they do not throw out the baby with the bath water.

To begin with, it would be useful to remember that this is not the first time a highly rated Jamaica team has struggled in CFU competitions. The difficulties experienced at the Caribbean level by Mr Rene Simoes — the Brazilian coach who famously guided Jamaica to the 1998 World Cup finals in France — are a matter of record.

In the circumstances, we note with some concern the Captain's targeting of locally based players for special criticism.

We believe Captain Burrell has to be careful. For while it is true that several senior professionals based in Britain and elsewhere were absent because of their contractual obligations, the hard core of this squad in Antigua are highly respected professionals now on their break from commitments in North America and Scandinavia.

Most, if not all of those pros, are part of the set-up which helped to qualify the country for the final round of World Cup qualifiers starting in the new year. Furthermore, several were part of the squad which won the CFU Championship four years ago and successfully defended it two years back.

They surely deserve as much blame for the debacle in Antigua as do the local-based players.

And are we to assume that the coaching and management staff is blameless?

All that said, we agree wholeheartedly that there must be a thorough accounting for what went wrong here.

We are struck by a comment from assistant coach Mr Alfredo Montesso suggesting unfitness as a contributing factor.

Mr Montesso says in part: "... we have to analyse that all the players in the MLS (US Major League Soccer) just finished a competition, and I don't believe that they were in the best physical condition".

Indeed, Mr Montesso goes so far as to suggest that the many changes to the Jamaica starting 11 over the three games in Antigua were in part because of the perception that the players were below full fitness.

Against that backdrop, how should those of us looking from the outside view the praise that has been heaped on the 18-year-old Mr Alvas Powell from all quarters? According to Captain Burrell, the teenager was the only local-based player to impress.

All of which leads to another question: Shouldn't the JFF and the coaching staff be doing more to promote and expose talented young players such as Mr Powell, who are presumably hungry for success and very motivated?

At bottom line though, as the JFF team goes into its period of introspection, it must make sure that focus remains on the fast approaching World Cup qualifiers. Whatever is done must strengthen that project, not undermine it.




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