... Tackle Bermuda in WC Qualifier at Drewsland
JAMAICA'S Under-17 footballer begin their quest to become the first national team to qualify for successive FIFA World Cup Finals when they play Bermuda at the Waterhouse Mini-Stadium this evening at 7:00.
Jamaica host Group 1 of the Caribbean qualifying first round which includes Bermuda and Antigua, and are overwhelming favourites to top the group.
There are five groups, with the winners and best second-placed team advancing to the final Caribbean round set for August 19-30. Cuba and Haiti have already secured their berths from Groups 2 and 3.
Five of the six teams from the final Caribbean qualifiers will then advance to the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Panama between April 6-19, with three teams qualifying for the World Cup.
Head coach Wendell Downswell, who led the country to the 2011 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, is confident of getting through this first stage unscratched.
"The youngsters have done well so far leading up to this stage of the competition. We are supposed to be able to get over these two Caribbean teams. We know the Caribbean teams are normally highly charged and motivated when playing against Jamaica," Downswell noted.
The general thought is that Jamaica are the regional giants and anything than convincing wins against Bermuda and Antigua will disappoint the home fans. However, Downswell is not entirely of that view.
"I don't think it will be that easy. If you look at the (senior) World Cup qualifiers, people think that Antigua would be easy pickings. It appears that way on paper," he said with a chuckle.
The Jamaicans have been in camp for the last few weeks and participated in the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) Under-20 League where they won seven of 10 games played, while losing to a very good Harbour View aggregation.
"We are confident based on our preparations and the fact that they played against some Under-20s in the KSAFA competition. This will be the real test of character," Downswell added.
Bermudan coach Scott Morton is equally confident and believes his charges will give a good account of themselves.
"We are very optimistic. Our chances are just as good as all the other teams in Jamaica and Antigua and we respect opponents, but we never fear them," said Morton.
"It is for us to just stay confident as we've always been and do the job on the pitch. We have to play with a lot of intelligence and we should be okay," he added.
Bermuda have several players based in the United Kingdom and the United States and Morton thinks that will help.
"We have players that go to prep schools in England and play in some small academies getting their feet wet in their first year. We have a few boys who are based in the US schools and they are used to the higher level and train at a more intense level and their experiences will definitely be useful for us," he confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica squad had a training session on Monday as they fine-tuned their preparations at the Waterhouse Mini-Stadium.
It was a difficult one for the coaching staff as both Downswell and assistant Alfredo Montesso could be seen shaking their heads in disappointment during the drills.
Montesso, who worked with the attacking players, showed his frustrated as he rushed for a water break, shaking his head and murmuring, "Never before, I have to be repeating, repeating, repeating."
Downswell, at the other end of the field, tried desperately to organise the back line as a unit.
The team will be captain by Jamaica College striker Junior Flemmings from Tivoli Gardens who was part of the last U-17 setup before being dropped prior to the World Cup. He has banged in nine goals during the KSAFA U-20 tournament.
US-based Michael Seaton of DC United should partner Flemmings in what is expected to be a formidable frontline, especially with the talented Martin Davis back from the Valencia Academy on the bench.
Iishmale Currie of Garvey Maceo was also a part of the last squad and will be the main midfielder, alongside Wolmer's Boys' Jaheel Hyde, the son of local icon Lenworth Hyde.
Tyshan Hill of Spot Valley should organise the defenders, while Courtney Dowdie of Pembroke Hall High is expected to get the nod in goal.