This is it!
Jamaica’s bid to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil will become a little clearer when they face mighty United States of America in their CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying campaign at 8:30 pm inside the National Stadium today. In other games today, new leaders Mexico, fresh from their much-needed 1-0 victory over Jamaica on Tuesday night, visit the Estadio Rommel Fernandez Gutierrez in Panama City for a 9:00 pm encounter with Panama, and Costa Rica host Honduras at the Costa Rican National Stadium in San José for another 9:00 pm game. Mexico lead the six-nation points standing with six points, one ahead of Panama, who are followed by Costa Rica, the US and Honduras on four, and Jamaica rooted at the bottom on two points. Jamaica and Mexico have played four games, while the others have played just three.
Yesterday, Jamaica’s head coach Theodore Whitmore was a picture of calm as he addressed the journalists at a brief press conference at the Jamaica Football Federation’s headquarters. He also called for calm.
“I can understand somewhat about the concern of the general public, but I can also assure you that all is not lost... we did it already, and I sure know that we can do it again regardless of what the situation (is). I have every confidence in the players that I’ve selected,” he said.
Tonight’s game will be the second of a three-game series inside a week, and since the last game, the Reggae Boyz have been taking it quite easy in training as they try to recuperate sufficiently ahead of what should be a much more physical encounter against the Americans.
Still, Whitmore advised that the mood of the players is beginning to improve.
“They were a bit down after the result, but yesterday (Wednesday) it was a positive note going into the training. I’m just asking the public to be remain calm and have patience. (We are) one win away from the top of the table. I can assure you this team will do the country proud...”
Against the Mexicans the Boyz appeared timid and oftentimes unsure of themselves, particularly in attack, and for today’s game Whitmore promises that there will be “guaranteed changes” to the approach/strategy/team, and advised that there would be “none (no changes) around the back”.
So with that, said captain and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is safely expected to tend goal, with Adrian Mariappa and Daniel Gordon in centre back, flanked by O’Brian Woodbine on the left and young Alvas Powell on the right.
In central midfield, Marvin Elliott is expected to maintain his place, alongside Rodolph Austin or Omar Daley. Austin has not trained with the team since Tuesday’s game, and this could be for precautionary reasons, as he was nursing a groin prior to Tuesday’s game. Garath McCleary should retain his place in a wide midfield area, but Je-Vaughn Watson could lose out to the returning Jermaine Johnson, who was sidelined due to yellow card suspension in the last game. However, towards the end of yesterday’s final training session at the National Stadium, Jermaine Johnson was forced to leave the field seemingly bothered by his left hamstring. If he’s unavailable, then Damion Williams could be employed in central midfield, with Omar Daley shifting further forward.
Jermaine Hue, who was one of the better players on Tuesday, is expected to pull the strings with Ryan Johnson again utilised as the pointman.
The Americans, who arrived in the island on Tuesday, should be a confident, if not a circumspect bunch, having pulled off a decent 4-3 victory over threetime World Cup champions Germany at the RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, on Sunday, albeit a much-weakened side with the absence of a number of their regulars.
That victory followed a 2-3 loss to an almost full strength Belgium outfit in Cleveland, Ohio, a few days earlier.
Entering Sunday’s game there was much alarm, as the defence appeared in shambles, there weren’t many goals, and key playmaker and all-time leading goalscorer Landon Donovan remained omitted.
But all that disappeared in quick time on Sunday with the result, and there’s belief in the camp again.
But even in defeat against Belgium, the Americans were able to create and score goals, something that the Reggae Boyz can’t seem to do at the moment.
AZ Alkmaar’s Jozy Altidore opened the scoring against Germany, his first at the international level for nearly two years, and even as he netted with regularity at his Dutch club.
And new skipper Clint Dempsey, who brace on Sunday moved him to second on the all-time American list with 35, only behind Donovan’s 49. Dempsey, who was standout for new English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, is as dangerous as they come.
The Reggae Boyz must remember that he was able to find the target within 36 seconds when the teams last played here in the semi-final round last September 7, though the Boyz scored a historic 2-1 victory then.
The powerful midfield trio of Roma’s Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, as well as the wily Graham Zusi, make this American unit extremely dangerous. Oh, by the way, Everton’s Tim Howard, who led the team previously, will tend goal.
Sports, they say, is unpredictable, and as Whitmore said the Boyz have done it already and they can do it again. But they will have to be at their best if they are to repeat that feat tonight.
At the end of the CONCACAF Hexagonal, three teams will earn automatic berths to the Brazil 2014 World Cup, with the fourth-place finisher taking on the champion of Oceania for a possible additional spot.