Sky's the limit as Reggae Boyz face El Salvador

Saturday, March 23, 2019

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The make-up of the current Jamaica Reggae Boyz squad for the today's Concacaf Nations League qualifying game against El Salvador in that country speaks to changes that have taken place in the approach to national team representation in recent years.

Of the 23-man squad only Mr Michael Hector of English club Sheffield was born and bred in Britain. That's a significant change from the days, not so long ago, when much of the personnel in national squads were British born and bred and qualified to represent Jamaica by virtue of ancestry.

We have no doubt that a contributory reason is the high cost of bringing professionals from Europe. But also it reflects a growing respect by local football authorities for players born and bred in Jamaica and operating at local clubs in North America and elsewhere.

Certainly, national coach Mr Theodore Whitmore showed what was possible in July 2017 when he guided a team of mainly Jamaican-bred players — many of whom were based at North American clubs — to the final of the Concacaf Gold Cup before losing 1-2 to hosts United States.

Back then Mr Whitmore showed himself to be an expert tactician and motivator, as the Reggae Boyz, lowly rated at the start of the tournament, systematically picked off more highly rated opponents on the road to the final, where they came close to upsetting the Americans.

That experience will have built confidence as the Jamaicans approach today's game against El Salvador, against whom the Reggae Boyz boast a decent record over the last 20 years or so.

However, Mr Whitmore, other members of the management team, and senior players will know from long, hard experience that nothing can be taken for granted, especially when playing in opponents' backyard. They will be aware that it can be extremely difficult in Central America, where the home crowd is usually an intensely passionate “twelfth man”. Hence, Mr Whitmore's cautionary note that “at this level you never can be too comfortable” and that the players have to be aware and keep their “foot on the gas pedal”.

Curiously, although Jamaica have won their games in the first three rounds of the tournament, and are on maximum nine points, they are currently only in fifth place in the table because of a superior goal difference enjoyed by Curacao, Haiti, Cuba, and Canada.

We are told that Jamaica needs to finish in the top six to guarantee a place in League A of the Nations League, and in the top 10 for a Gold Cup berth.

It's useful to point out that all of this also serves as preparation ahead of Fifa World Cup qualifiers for 2022.

This newspaper joins all well-thinking Jamaicans in wishing Mr Whitmore and his team all that's good for today's game and going forward.

Finally, we think it appropriate to applaud Concacaf for organising and implementing the Concacaf Nations League which has provided additional opportunities for smaller nations in our region to play high-level football.

Hopefully, the concept will be expanded and will prosper with the passage of time.

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