GUATEMALA City, Guate-mala — The results of Jamaica's next two games against Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda in the semi-final phase of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Series will determine the destiny of the nation's football programme for the next 10 years.
That's the view of the outgoing general secretary of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the highly respected Horace Reid, who also told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that he is optimistic as the entire group is fully prepared and focused on the job at hand.
"Last night (Tuesday night) I had a conversation with our players at our post-dinner team meeting and I took the opportunity to remind the players of the importance of these two games," he said.
"What we have in front of us is 180 minutes of football to cross this hurdle for the next phase of qualification and since the 2002 campaign we have not managed to get to the final six and everything is now in our hands to do that and I think the players recognise and understand the importance of this particular game against Guatemala.
"So far I think everybody appears to be on the same page, the coaching staff, backroom staff, and the players. In fact, this game against Guatemala and indeed the game against Antigua and Barbuda will shape in a lot of extent, the destiny of our football for the next 10 years," said Reid, who is due to depart the JFF for the post of competitions director at CONCACAF at the end of this month.
Jamaica, the USA and Guatemala are tied atop the four-team Group A of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying play-offs on seven points each with two matches remaining. Antigua and Barbuda are last with a solitary point, having already been eliminated as only two teams will qualify for the final round, from where three teams earn automatic berths to the Brazil 2014 World Cup Finals and the fourth-placed team engaged in a play-off with the winner from Oceania for another berth to Brazil.
If Jamaica fail to make the top-two from this round, Reid foresees doom on the horizon.
"It's very difficult for the football federation to exist and to be able to manage and to do all the things we need to do if we crash out before we get to the next round, and this we have seen in the last two campaigns, because what it means from a financial standpoint is that we would have an extremely long tamarind season and when you are talking about servicing nine national teams and the senior men's team is the sole breadwinner of the other eight, it is very important from that
"Secondly, for us to reposition our football on the international stage — it took us quite a while to get back to where we are — we would definitely lose a lot of ground should we not advance," he added.
However, Reid believes that the group has done enough to advance and he remains optimistic.
"We have to be positive, the key for us is that we determine our own destiny and, therefore, we have to apply ourselves properly and ensure that we leave Guatemala with a positive result.
"I think the players are all cognisant of what is expected of them, they have been very positive since they arrived here. We have an excellent bunch of players, very professional, but also very committed, and as I reminded all of them when we started the rebuilding of this particular team in 2009 following our very poor performance in the 2009 Gold Cup, we had established some very basic principles as to how we were going to rebuild and what now we are seeing playing out in front of us is exactly what we had expected," he offered.
He added: "We now have as we did in the 1998 campaign, a group of players who are like family, very committed, very focused and who have set their sights on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, something we have not done in a very long time, so they really received well so far the responsibility that they have in front of them and the message that all and sundry have preached since they arrived here.
"They recognise that and they recognise too that they did not do as well as they could have and should have coming out of the game against the USA in Ohio. They didn't play well in that first half, they didn't play as well as they are capable of playing, they did much better in the second half even before we conceded that goal, but that is history. We have to learn from that, we have a lot of football in front of us, but we have to focus first on the 90 minutes on Friday before we even start to think about the other 90 minutes next Tuesday."
The hosts are also precariously poised and are promoting Friday's game which starts at 8:00 pm (9:00 pm Jamaica time) at the Mateo Flores Stadium as a final, a game they cannot afford to lose.
Though the Reggae Boyz, who arrived here on Monday afternoon and have settled nicely into their rhythm, are in a hostile environment, Reid is confident they are ready to thwart anything the Guatemalan players and their 13 million home supporters throw at them.
"Fortunately for us our players are being prepared and are prepared for an aggressive approach, a more direct approach from Guatemala and it is something we are being conditioned to deal with. I'm not worried so much about the expectations from the standpoint of our players because I think they will be prepared for whatever Guatemala would come to the table with on Friday. In that regard I'm fairly optimistic that we go into the game not being surprised by Guatemala.
"It is a must-win game for them as well. They are cognisant of a tough fixture they have following our game. that we understand, but like Guatemala we also need a positive result. So, I think it is going to be a tough game for both teams, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and put our quality on the pitch, apply our preparation on the pitch, and also put that three-year building process on the pitch and not leave that pitch without something," Reid concluded.