THEODORE ‘Tappa’ Whitmore may have saved his job as head coach of the Reggae Boyz with Tuesday night's lastditch, heart-stopping 4-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda at the National Stadium in Kingston.
Needing to win by three clear goals in the ‘The Office’ showdown and with fate dangling precariously in Kansas City in a contest between the USA and Guatemala, the Boyz rose to the occasion and breathed new life into their ‘Mission To Rio’ campaign by booking their spot to CONCACAF's final six round.
Along with Group A winners USA — who defeated Guatemala 3-1 to top the group on 13 points — Jamaica booked their place to the final phase for the first time since the 2002 campaign, tying with the Central Americans, who defeated them 2-1 on Friday away, on 10 points, but with a better goal difference of +3 to their +1. Antigua and Barbuda finished at the bottom with one point earned against Jamaica in the first meeting in St John’s.
The USA and Jamaica join Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama for the decisive round which will automatically qualify three teams to Brazil 2014, with the fourth-place finisher to engage a team from Oceania for a possible fourth CONCACAF spot.
In a dominant display with Jermaine Hue, the chief mastermind, Jamaica’s victory was placed beyond doubt with a late but well-taken brace by Dane Richards. The Vancouver Whitecaps attacker struck in 78th and 88th minutes. His goals followed those of Demar Phillips (16th) and Nyron Nosworthy (18th).
Antigua sent Jamaicans’ hearts racing when Quinton Griffith pulled a goal back in the 61st minute.
Had Jamaica failed to advance, the repercussions by all reasonable expectations could have been far-reaching throughout the technical ranks. President of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) Captain Horace Burrell, speaking at a post-match press conference, did not hide the fact there would have been a shake-up of the technical programme if Tuesday night’s objectives were not met.
“Football is a result-driven sport, and when you don't get the desired result, there will be casualties. For example, if the USA had lost tonight (Tuesday) and did not qualify for the next round, coach (Juergen) Klinsmann would not have a job. And let me tell you that if we didn't get the desired result against Antigua and failed to qualify, there would be casualties. That's football. But I am happy the way things turned out,” said Burrell.
The JFF head is known to be quick and decisive when reacting to perceived failures, and have in the past fired coaches on the spot. But at 20:00 hours after Tuesday night's game, Whitmore's job, and that of the rest of the coaching staff, was safe.
And the former Reggae Boyz hero was an obviously relieved man.
“First of all, we have to thank God Almighty to bring us through. I always knew that the road is not easy, but we made it through tonight,” he told reporters shortly after the nerve-wracking experience.
Having played professionally in the UK and at the international level in a rich career, Whitmore is quite aware that a coach's job is never safe when desired results prove elusive.
“This is a coach's job and that is to get results, but as I have said before, I always have the confidence and belief in my group of players, coaching staff and again the support from the federation,” he said.
Instead of the proverbial pink slip, Whitmore received the promise of more pay from the very man with the power to have given him his marching orders had it become necessary.
“Having qualified for the final round, 'Tappa' will get an increase in salary. As a policy of the JFF we will not divulge figures, but it's performancebased and I can tell you that coach Whitmore will get an increase,” said Burrell.
Based on a structure of paying bonuses and other incentives, the players themselves could also be in the money.
Meanwhile, Whitmore suggested that a deep, retrospective look at the completed round will be undertaken to help determine the path forward and the way the team will do business hence.
“What we have to do is have a review of the first round of World Cup qualification and how we want to approach the last phase. We still have some work to do and that's where our focus is at the moment. There is definitely some things that we will change,” said Whitmore, who has the distinction of being the first local coach to take the senior team to the final round of a World Cup qualifying campaign.
And as he looks ahead, Whitmore did reiterate the principle of keeping the door open for new additions to the team, and was brief in his response to queries about the status of the UK-based trio of Marlon King, Jermaine Johnson and Omar Daley in particular.
“The same question kept coming about Jermaine Hue (before he was recalled)… we have all the players in mind, but it comes down to the right players at the right time,” he said.
Whitmore, in addressing the question of possibly including more England-born players in the squad going forward, said that will depend solely on the desire of the individuals.
“We are trying to talk to most of these players, but we can't just go wherever and just pull them in, they will have to want to play for Jamaica as well. They must show the commitment and the desire that they want to play for the country,” said the former Tranmere Rovers midfielder.
Whitmore, the France 1998 World Cup star with two goals in a 2-1 win over Japan, did not let the opportunity slip to publicly challenge Burrell and the administration to do all in their power to provide the requisite resources as the nation hunts a second World Cup berth.
“Another thing that I can say is that we have to challenge the Captain and the federation to help us as much as possible to ensure that we reach Brazil 2014. A lot of people don't understand the struggle that the coaching staff and the federation go through to reach where we are today.
“Also, I want to thank the fans who continue to believe in us and who have come out and supported the team. We know that with that belief and confidence we can make it to Brazil 2014,” he noted.
Burrell was quick on the ball with his response to the coach's call.
“We will have to get the resources to allow the team to train properly… when you look at Central America and North America and the level of training they expose their players to, you will realise that we still have a lot of work.
“As a federation, we are going to endeavour to allow them to play some friendlies. We as a federation will have to find the money to allow our team to prepare. We can't reasonably expect to get the results unless we spend money, so here I am hoping that we will get more sponsorship and support from all areas,” Burrell concluded.
Meanwhile, Antigua coach Tom Curtis said the better team won on the night and the formalisation of his team's elimination from the campaign provides the platform to focus on the future of Antiguan football.
“Jamaica clearly had the players of a higher level, but I believe we did fantastically well with the group of players we have. We are now looking forward to qualifying for the Gold Cup and also to hosting the Digicel Cup, which obviously we will be trying to win,” said the Brit.