World Cup success and the possibilities for Jamaica
QUALIFYING for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals would no doubt be a huge boost for this country, from an economic and social point of view.
As experience has taught us, football — and sport in general — has proven to be a unifying force in a largely polarised society and a healing force for many social ills. Also, the potential of sport to be a big money spinner is well established, though we are yet to formalise a way to maximise on that promise.
So a repeat World Cup qualification for Jamaica's Reggae Boyz would indeed be a sweet follow-up on the exploits of our track and field athletes at the London Olympics, providing a big shot in the arm for brand Jamaica.
That said, should the Reggae Boyz earn a place among the 32 nations to contest the finals, it would not be a surprise, based on the obvious signs of progress in the overall football programme.
Recall that the team squeezed into the final phase of the CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying Series last October, and the near-miss prompted JFF president Captain Horace Burrell to spearhead a change of direction for the programme.
After careful review, he led a three-man delegation, which included head coach Mr Theodore Whitmore and his assistant Mr Alfredo Montesso, to the UK, where they secured the services of eight seasoned professionals they believed would add value to the player pool.
Still, there were challenges, but Mr Whitmore and his technical staff remained resolute. After one game thus far in this phase, they appear to be back on track.
With just two practice sessions for a bunch of players who have never played together before, the Boyz, who had hitherto suffered heavy defeats at the much-feared, high-altitude Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, battled the home team to a historic 0-0 draw, sending shockwaves around the region, because it broke a World Cup Qualifying 19-game winning streak for the Mexicans.
That performance, we submit, was no fluke, but a rendition from a group of highly motivated, highly qualified, and highly focused players.
We were also very impressed with the reaction of the group after the Mexico game. Though they lapped up the compliments, they were extremely quick to tuck that result away in the history books and train their eyes on the next opponent, today's visitors to the National Stadium — Panama.
It's no wonder Mr Whitmore and his band of players are exuding such calm confidence. We have never before seen such levels of intense focus and maturity from a senior Reggae Boyz group, as evidenced by comments captured by our Sports Editor Mr Ian Burnett in today's sports pages.
Of course, Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the Boyz, announced earlier this year, has no doubt contributed to the team's focus, as they are now more comfortable. For, as Mr Whitmore said in giving thanks for that sponsorship, "football is not only played on the field, but off the field as well..."
So, now that the Boyz can give 100 per cent attention to their game, we, like Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, are backing the Boyz to sink this Panamanian ship.