Jamaica’s World Cup dream on knife’s edge
THIS is it.
There's absolutely no more room for error, though even if the Reggae Boyz produce the perfect game and register a convincing triumph, it might not be enough as destiny has been cruelly snatched from their grasps.
That's the scenario facing Jamaica when they oppose Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) here today at the National Stadium at 6:15 pm in the sixth and final round of games in the semi-finals of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Play-offs.
Jamaica are on seven points in Group A, three points adrift of joint leaders the USA and Guatemala, who face off in Kansas City at the same time, while A&B are rooted at the bottom of the four-team group with one point earned in their home draw against Jamaica on June 12 at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
But no team in the group has yet managed to secure a berth to the final round, as the joint leaders have identical +3 goal differences, while Jamaica have 0 and A&B -6.
As a result, any of the top three could make the final round based on today's results.
A Jamaica victory by at least three clear goals and any loss in the other game would guarantee a berth for Theodore Whitmore's Reggae Boyz.
Indeed, the Boyz might not even need to score three clear goals to advance, depending on the margin of defeat in the other game. If either team in the other game were to win by three clear goals, then the Reggae Boyz would only need to win by just one goal.
One thing is certain, the Boyz must score a win if they are to advance. Anything else and their 'Road to Rio' campaign would come to an early and surprising end.
The Boyz appeared to be sitting pretty for much of their game against Guatemala at the Mateo Flores Stadium last Friday, but gave up a silly goal which condemned them to this precarious position where they are now on the outside looking in.
Still Whitmore and his players are exuding a high level of confidence and optimism and have looked decent in their last two days.
"We are a little bit disappointed, but we still have a game so we have to remain positive on the Antigua game and we know what it takes and we have to go out there and deliver," the coach told the Jamaica Observer.
"We don't want to concentrate on the Guatemala-US game. We have a chance and we want to make sure we do what we have to," he added.
With that in mind, Whitmore has opted to go on the offensive and will be employing a 4-3-3 formation today, as opposed to the 4-4-2 formation he employed on Friday.
Ace midfielder Rodolph Austin trained the last two days and will return to the starting line-up as the central midfielder, as will Dane Richards, who burnt the Guatemalans with his blistering speed all night last Friday, as well as Tramaine Stewart in an attacking midfield position.
The technical staff has also switched utility player Jermaine Taylor to central defence to partner Nyron Nosworthy, in place of Friday's skipper Shavar Thomas. The back four will be completed by Demar Phillips on the left and Lovell Palmer on the right.
Austin, Jermaine Hue and Stewart will be in midfield with Richards, Luton Shelton and Ryan Johnson in attack.
A&B's British coach Tom Curtis expects another close contest today.
"We've played against everybody now, and to be honest it's very, very close," he said. "We sat down and looked back and we could have easily won both games against Guatemala, we could've won against you (Jamaica), and we could have won against the US on Friday. So we are very disappointed in terms of the amount of points that we've got, but in this group it has been very close."
The tiny Eastern Caribbean islands flew into the island on Sunday and Captain George Dublin revealed that they are a professional unit and will not be offering any generosity.
"We are not coming here to just lay down, we are coming here to play a game of football and may the better team win," he said.
"It would not be the best feeling (to deny Jamaica a chance), but it is football, and it is a cruel game because we thought we should've won about two or three of the games we played.
"It would be hard to come here and beat Jamaica, one of the teams in the Caribbean that I have a lot of respect for; but if we happen to play the better football and win and Jamaica does not go through, then so be it, we would all have to live with that disappointment."
The A&B team went through their final preparations last night at the National Stadium, immediately after the Reggae Boyz had completed their 45-minute practice, and they will be eager to make up for their heart-rending 1-2 defeat to the US at home last Friday, especially knowing that the visitors notched their win with a 90th minute goal. They definitely would want to bow out of the 2014 World Cup campaign on a high, and sending a message to all and sundry ahead of hosting the Caribbean Cup in early December.
Antigua and Barbuda from: Goalkeepers Molvin James, Brenton Muhammad, Keita DeCastro; defenders George Dublin, Marc Joseph, Akeem Thomas, Zane Francis-Angol, Quinton Griffith, Karanja Mack, Hazeley Pyke; midfielders Lawson Robinson, Ranja Christian, Luke George, Randolph Burton, Tamorley Thomas, Kimoi Alexander; forwards Moses Ashikodi, Stefan Smith, Dexter Blackstock and Peter Byers.
Jamaica's starting team: Dwayne Miller, Nyron Nosworthy, Jermaine Taylor, Demar Phillips, Lovell Palmer, Rodolph Austin, Jermaine Hue, Tramaine Stewart, Luton Shelton, Dane Richards, Ryan Johnson.
The rest of the 23-man squad is: Goalkeepers DuWayne Kerr, Jacomeno Barrett; defenders Shavar Thomas, Adrian Mariappa, Dicoy Williams, Montrose Phinn, Andrea Campbell; midfielders Je-Vaughn Watson, Joel Senior, Ewan Grandison, Andrae Lewis; forward Omar Cummings.