Boyz aim to cash in on Copa America
...Burrell vows to do all for spot in tourney to celebrate 100 years of CONMEBOL
MIAMI, Florida — The prospects of Jamaica playing in what is expected to be a lucrative celebratory edition of the Copa America has whetted the appetites of local football officials.
Chief among them is Jamaica Football Federation President Captain Horace Burrell, who reacted with unbridled excitement at the announcement that the age-old South American championship will be merged with CONCACAF for a commemorative version to be played in the United States in 2016.
Burrell's joy is not only driven by the financial possibilities and prestige going up against South America's marquis football gladiators, but the benefits that could accrue from a developmental standpoint.
"I am just thinking how wonderful a prospect it is of Jamaica going up against the likes of Brazil, Argentina and all the other top teams from South America," Burrell told the Sunday Observer at the St Regis Hotel in Bal Harbor, Miami, on Thursday.
Not wanting Jamaica to miss the opportunity of cashing in on this mega tournament, where each team could be guaranteed a minimum of US$1 million ($110 million) for merely qualifying, Burrell has sounded the business trumpet.
"Jamaica must now prepare properly for the Caribbean Cup, because we will have everything to play for. A blessing in disguise is that Jamaica has been awarded the hosting rights for the Caribbean Cup, and we have to do everything to ensure that we give an excellent performance and qualify for this cup," he said.
The champion of the CFU Caribbean Cup will gain an automatic berth to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Centennial Copa America in 2016.
Even as hosts, Burrell believes that the high stakes involved will motivate other Caribbean teams to come to Jamaica with their war paint on.
"Remember all the other teams will be coming with their top players, because the Caribbean Cup will be played within the FIFA period of November, and so it's clear that we will have to work hard to win this tournament.
"I believe that, although other Caribbean teams will be coming with their best players, I think that we have in us the local and international players to pull it off, and we should be boosted with the added incentive of the Centennial Cup America which was announced here today (Thursday)," said Burrell.
Still a sour taste in his mouth, Burrell is unable to shake the disappointment of the Reggae Boyz's failure to qualify for the 2012 Caribbean Cup after a disastrous tournament in Antigua and Barbuda.
A repeat of that, he said, is not an option this time around.
"There is no doubt that not qualifying for the last Gold Cup would have hampered our chances of qualifying for the World Cup, and this is something we have to safeguard against going forward. I think that collectively we did not take the last tournament seriously, but this one, with a big sweetener (Centennial Cup America) now, will be taken very seriously," Burrell said.
Apart for the potential for Jamaica to earn big bucks, the CONCACAF vice-president argued that, crucially, the Centennial Cup America will provide broad-based, long-term developmental opportunities that shouldn't be missed.
"It will certainly lift the standards of our football as we look to Russia 2018. There's no doubt that when you play against more formidable opponents your game will improve. Again, this will be a great opportunity to get the best out of our players.
"I think, for the Caribbean, it (Copa America) couldn't have come at a better time, and I think it's the best thing that could happen now for football development in our region," Burrell noted.
The Copa America coming to the USA was the brainchild of CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, who it is said worked tirelessly with his executive committee to convince CONMEBOL to take its most precious tournament outside the continent for the first time -- a gesture widely viewed as a bold move to unite the American continents.
"I think, first of all, that it is a brilliant initiative on the part of president Webb. This is something that he brought to the executive committee and we have been working on it for the past two years and to see it come to this is nothing short of a dream come true," said Burrell.
At Thursday's press conference, not much in terms of overall incentives, format of the tournament, host cities, and other organisational details were available, but Webb promised more in the coming weeks as some specifics are still being hammered out.
The CONCACAF boss did indicate that the tournament to celebrate 100 years of Copa America is expected to pour "billions of dollars" into the economy of the host, the USA.
As many as 20 US cities could host the inter-continental tournament, but that will be contingent on the outcome of the bid process and format of the competition.
In a 16-team field for the Centennial Cup America, CONMEBOL's 10-member associations -- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela -- will be joined by six competitors from CONCACAF, including host and 2013 Gold Cup champion United States, and six-time Gold Cup champion Mexico.
Additional CONCACAF representatives will include the 2014 champion of the CFU Caribbean Cup and the champion of UNCAF Central American Cup.
The final two CONCACAF teams to earn a ticket to the Centennial Cup America 2016 will be determined by a four-team play-off.
The four national teams advancing furthest in the 2015 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup that are not among the four already qualified to the Centennial Cup America (Mexico, United States, CFU winner and UNCAF winner) will enter a play-off to determine the final two CONCACAF qualifiers.