THE Reggae Boyz will face a baptism of fire when they kick-off their CONCACAF final round of Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Mexico in an away fixture on February 6 next year, most likely at high altitude.
The final schedule of the hexagonal play-offs was established following a FIFA supervised draw in Miami Beach, Florida on Wednesday night.
As experienced has taught, Mexico host most, if not all, World Cup qualifying games at their 105,000-capacity Azteca Stadium located a daunting 7,350 feet above sea level.
Few countries can boast of defeating the Mexicans in this rarefied setting that has given the Central Americans a distinct advantage over the years.
President of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Captain Horace Burrell, said while he's generally satisfied with the draw, he expects every single match — home and away — to be difficult.
"There will no easy game... every one of the 10 games is going to be tough, so it's pointless to worry about who you play and when. What we have to do is ensure that we are prepared to play every single game like it's your last game," said Burrell, who attended the televised draw.
"Having said that, I am satisfied with the draw that we got. My view is that playing away to Mexico early, which is the most difficult team we will have to face with the high altitude and with over 100,000 fans to contend with in the Azteca, will be a true early test of our depth as a team," he added.
Burrell, who hopped out of his schedule in the UK to attend the Miami event, told the Jamaica Observer that ending the rugged 'Mission To Rio' campaign at home against Honduras on October 15 could prove decisive. "We finish at home against Honduras and as is often the case, the World Cup argument is settled with the last game of the qualifying tournament, so this fixture could be decisive one way or another," noted Burrell, the visionary leader behind Jamaica's World Cup successes at various levels.
When the senior men's team qualified for the France 1998 World Cup, their berth was secured with a draw against Mexico at the National Stadium in November, 1997.
After kicking off against number 14th-ranked Mexico early next year, the Boyz will host Panama on March 22 before playing away at Costa Rica four days later. After a lengthy break, they host Mexico on June 4 and the USA three days later. On June 11, the Jamaicans jet off for a date with Honduras before getting another two-month hiatus.
On September 6 and October 11 Jamaica will be back on the road against Panama and the USA before closing at home on October 15.
The schedule was determined through a random drawing performed in Miami by FIFA Head of World Cup and Olympic Qualifying, Gordon Savic. As a result of the draw, the first round of matches in the CONCACAF hexagonal round, which will begin on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, will feature Mexico hosting Jamaica, Honduras hosting United States and Panama hosting Costa Rica.
The six countries that have advanced to the CONCACAF final round represent the top-two finishers from group play in the semi-final round of the confederation play-offs. In the hexagonal round, each team will play every other twice -- once at home, once away -- for a total of 10 matches per team, and 30 matches in total.
The top three teams at the end of the round will automatically advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, while the fourth advances to an inter-continental home-and-away play-off tie in November against the winner of the Oceania Football Confederation.
"We want to thank FIFA for holding this draw as we are proud for our six member associations who will be competing for the honour of representing CONCACAF at the next FIFA World Cup," said CONCACAF president, Caymanian Jeffrey Webb.
"This process is a clear example of the integration among all federations who are committed to safeguarding football standards and encourage authentic rivalry and competition. Guided by principles of sharp vision and a strategy of continuous expansion, this region is developing strength to reach all-time highs," he added.
Savic, who directed the draw, said "after a very exciting third round in the CONCACAF qualifiers" he and his team are looking forward to the last stage.
"The opening matches in February are just around the corner and we shall immediately start co-ordinating these matches with the respective host member associations. We wish all national teams the best of luck under the umbrella of fairplay and sportsmanship," he said in a release.
Jamaica were represented by Burrell and new general secretary Raymond Grant.
Wednesday's draw was decided on when the six member associations could not agree on a final schedule, and the group was forced to resort to the FIFA-sanctioned exercise.
CONCACAF Hexagonal schedule
Mexico vs Jamaica
Honduras vs United States
Panama vs Costa Rica
Jamaica vs Panama
Honduras vs Mexico
United States vs Costa Rica
Mexico vs United States
Panama vs Honduras
Costa Rica vs Jamaica
Jamaica vs Mexico
Jamaica vs United States
Panama vs Mexico
Costa Rica vs Honduras
Mexico vs Costa Rica
Honduras vs Jamaica
United States vs Panama
United States vs Honduras
Costa Rica vs Panama
Mexico vs Honduras
Panama vs Jamaica
Costa Rica vs United States
Jamaica vs Costa Rica
Honduras vs Panama
United States vs Mexico
Mexico vs Panama
United States vsJamaica
Jamaica vs Honduras
Panama vs United States
Costa Rica vs Mexico