Mexico game important, but it's the campaign that's crucial

Friday, January 25, 2013

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We join Mr Theodore Whitmore, head coach of Jamaica's national senior men's team, in his clarion call to the nation for support ahead of the final campaign for a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"We can qualify for Brazil 2014; it is within us to do so... We are 10 official games and nine months away," Mr Whitmore told his audience at the recent launch of the St James Football Association Sandals/ATL Senior League. "History beckons, let us all embrace this opportunity by joining hands and rallying around a common cause."

Unfortunately, as Mr Whitmore and his technical staff deliberate on the final 23-man squad to face powerful Mexico in the opening game of the CONCACAF Final Round Hexagonal fixture at the high-altitude Azteca Stadium on February 6, circumstances appear to firmly place him between the proverbial 'rock' and 'hard place'.

Given the situation, we think it appropriate to remind everyone that regardless of the outcome in Mexico City, it will only be the start of the qualifying campaign. State, private sector, and public support must remain strong and unrelenting for the entire campaign.

From our vantage point, Mr Whitmore and his support staff face a serious predicament in terms of team selection, ahead of the opening game. On the back of the Reggae Boyz's disastrous performance at the Caribbean Cup in Antigua last December, it seems very likely that a number of players used in that tournament will have to be ignored.

So, what are the options?

Mr Whitmore had built his team around players from the Scandinavian countries, the US Major League Soccer, plus a sprinkling of European-based and local-based players for the semi-final phase of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers. They had developed team chemistry and cohesion, important components of any decent football team.

However, Jamaican professionals from the US and the Scandinavian countries have just begun pre-season training and would obviously be well short of match fitness for the February 6 opener.

On the other hand, Mr Whitmore and crew could summon players primarily from the English leagues — supposedly of high quality — but certainly with little or no team chemistry and cohesion.

This situation, we submit, would significantly impact any team's performance, especially when one considers that the Jamaica team will be afforded just a solitary meaningful training session prior to the contest in Mexico.

A very delicate balancing act is therefore required of Mr Whitmore and his support staff. Which do they sacrifice — quality and match fitness or chemistry and cohesion?

It is also to be remembered that prior to the Caribbean Cup debacle, JFF President Captain Horace Burrell, Mr Whitmore, and his assistant Mr Alredo Montesso, journeyed to England where they identified eight players they deemed capable of elevating the squad. It is our understanding that those players have since become eligible to represent Jamaica, but like their other England-based colleagues — some of whom we suspect will be home-born and bred players and who have not represented us in a long while — they will not be available until after February 2 when they represent their clubs.

The JFF could demand their release before then (February 1) as per the FIFA statutes, but experience has taught us that players from developing countries usually lose out in club versus country battles, and so it probably suits the JFF to tread with caution and try to maintain a harmonious relationship with the British clubs.

Again, we must emphasise that no team will qualify or be eliminated after the February 6 opener, so we urge the technical staff to always examine the bigger picture as they move forward.




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