MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Make no bones about it, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz will be heavy underdogs against Mexico today.
But on a day which bears some significance, as the nation celebrates the birth of one of its greatest departed sons, Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley, who would have been 68, like any ‘Buffalo Soldier’, the Reggae Boyz will bravely take on Mexico with the odds stacked heavily against them.
The game is slated for the much-feared Azteca Stadium at 8:30 pm (9:30 pm Jamaica time), and it signals the start of the final phase of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying for next year’s FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil.
The six countries in the final phase will engage each other on a home-and-away format, with the top-three teams on points at the end earning direct berths to Brazil. The fourth-placed finisher wil earn another chance via another home and away fixture with the winner of the Oceania region in November.
In other games on today, the USA visit San Pedro Sula to face Honduras, while Panama welcome Costa Rica.
History has not been kind to Jamaica in this particular fixture, but the Boyz are determined to give of their best in an attempt to change the course of history.
“Nothing in life is impossible, but we know that Mexico has a great league and good players,” Donovan Ricketts, goalkeeper and the lone surviving member of the 1998 France World Cup team, told the media here upon his arrival on Sunday evening.
“We know that we are not favourites, but we are not going to resign or give up and give them the victory before time, we are going to fight,” he added. Teammate and striker Ryan Johnson chipped in: “We’ll do the best that we can. We believe that Mexico has a better team, but we will try to make a good game. Also, we have some players in Europe, who are good and we will try to play together.”
Jamaica finished second in Group One in the semi-final phase, three points adrift of the USA on 10 points, after three wins, a draw and two losses for a goal difference of three, which was two ahead of Guatemala, who also finished on 10 points.
Since then a number of players have been injected, as the technical staff look to improve the quality ahead of this final phase.
They held their first training session on Monday and head coach Theodore Whitmore was pleased with the effort. “I think it was very successful, the players were enjoying it, they were spot-on and I think it was a decent effort this afternoon,” was how he summed up yesterday’s near 90-minute exercise, which ended in a drizzle, accompanied by lightning strikes.
Whitmore’s assistant, Alfredo Montesso, was also upbeat when he spoke to the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
“It is going to be very important how we start the game because I believe every team that comes to Mexico will face the same difficulties that we are going to face,” he said.
He added: “The stadium is very intimidating, but we have a very experienced group now who are accustomed to playing in top leagues, not just the UK-based players, who are experienced, but you can see that they are in the right frame, they are in competition mode. We are looking for the best performance possible from the team because we know what the result will be a consequence of the performance.
“What we saw from them in training yesterday (Monday) shows that it is a good group, very positive approach from the new players, who have come into the team, they have been welcomed by the others and that will be crucial for the game tomorrow (today).”
The players were scheduled to have a 45-minute workout at the Azteca last evening, and Montesso was hoping that they wouldn’t get intimidated by the atmosphere, but play confident football.
“It is crucial that they don’t feel intimidated, it is crucial that they don’t sit back in our defensive field, it’s crucial that we attack them as well, it’s crucial that we work the wings, so they will know that they have to do and I’m sure that they are going to do the best they can and that we will get a good result.”
It is expected that the 105,000-capacity Azteca could see just about 40,000 spectators today, according to the President of Federacion Mexicana de Futbol Asociacion (FMF) Justino Compean.
Additionally, Compean, who has kindly made arrangements to accommodate Jamaica’s Under- 20 Men’s team at a near two-week training camp at the Athletes Village which was used for the 1968 Olympics, plans to accommodate the juniors as special guests at the Azteca today.
Whitmore, too, is hopeful that the Boyz will give a confident display today, and he is adamant that he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened against the United States in Columbus last September 11.
“It is a whole tactical approach and what we want to remember is the first-half approach against the USA in Ohio, and we don’t want the same sort of thing to creep in on us, so as much as possible we don’t want this Mexican team to (dominate us), we know what they have to offer and we have been working on a number of things for the game on Wednesday.”
Today, referee Mark Geiger of the USA will be in charge, assisted by Mark Sean Hurd (USA), Joseph Fletcher (Canada). The fourth official is Edvin Jurisevic (USA), referee assessor, Stanley Darville (Bahamas), and match commissary, Joseph Ramirez Rojas (Costa Rica).