THE stakes are high. Very high. Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will look to consolidate their historic 0-0 result away at the much-vaunted Azteca Stadium in high altitude Mexico City, while Panama will look to rebound from their 2-2 result at home to Costa Rica in the opening round of the final phase of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal Play-offs on February 6.
That's the scenario today when Jamaica oppose Panama inside the National Stadium for an 8:30 pm kick-off of round two of the series. In other encounters on today, Mexico pay a visit to Honduras, while the United States host Costa Rica, ahead of next Tuesday's third round.
Honduras, who edged the US 2-1 in the first round, lead the standings with three points, followed by four teams — Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Mexico — on one, with the US at the foot of the table without a point.
Buoyed by their highly professional performance against Mexico, where they could have stolen all three points, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz have developed a confident, yet respectful swagger, and there's every indication that they hope to turn the National Stadium, more popularly known as 'The Office', into their own stomping ground once again.
But today's foes will be no pushovers, and head coach Theodore Whitmore and his band of Reggae Boyz are quite aware of that.
"We have to play a very disciplined and organised game because we know that the Panama team is going to be a tough team," declared Whitmore.
"We don't want to be complacent, we have a job to do..."
The Central Americans hold a distinctive advantage in their head-to-head meetings, having scored five wins, accompanied by four draws and just two defeats in 11 encounters.
Though highly respectful of their opponents, assistant head coach Alfredo Montesso told the Jamaica Observer that today's approach will be different from the one against Mexico. The team will take more risks, as they go in search of a victory.
"Now our approach has to be different, we have to take some more risks in the game because we are playing at home, and this is what we have started to put in their minds. So once we put our feet on the ground, understand our limitations, know our potential, and work really hard at that, I believe we have a chance to do a very good game against Panama, and the result will be a consequence of that," he told the Observer earlier this week.
He added: "We have to repeat the performance we gave against Mexico, especially in the marking (defensive organisation)... we have to push Panama back into their own half, we have to attack more, of course, with more ball possession, much more than we did against Mexico."
But though the plan is to attack, Whitmore offered a cautious note. "We don't want to go in all-out attack, we just want to play our game and make the most of it."
Whitmore, the former Reggae Boyz star player and skipper, revealed that the visitors, who are led by the twin brothers Julio Dely Valdes and Jorge Dely Valdes (assistant coach), also former star players, tend to concentrate play a lot on their right-hand side.
"We have sat and walked through a couple of blackboard sessions and just like against the Mexicans, we have our game plan that the Panama team has to counter (that)," Whitmore offered.
The bulk of the Jamaican players arrived in the island on Sunday evening and have gone through their paces at the JFF Technical Centre at the University of the West Indies, and at the game venue, and even had time to indulge in few corporate promotional activities.
Goalkeeping captain Donovan Ricketts, though guarding against complacency, is satisfied with the team's preparation and focus on today's game.
"I think it has gone well, we have been going through our paces and we are trying to practise what we want to execute in the game on Friday (today), and so far it's been good," he told the Observer following Wednesday's practice.
"I am confident in the group, the scouting reports and the instructions that we've got, it's now left to us to go out and execute, but we have nothing to be overconfident about because every game is a new game, so we go fresh and try to execute what we want."
Central defender Nyron Nosworthy was equally pleased with the progress of the squad. "I would say it has been productive, the manager is looking over certain things and the players are just making sure that we get it right and everyone is just concentrated on the task at hand.
"I think for us as a squad, we need to stick together, Mexico (result) has gone now and today it's all about Panama. We are at home and I know the supporters are coming out to support us and we don't want to disappoint them and we don't want to disappoint ourselves, so we are fully concentrated on the task at hand," Nosworthy said.
Throughout the week the technical staff has been tinkering with the possible starting side and formation.
It appears that Ryan Johnson, who was the lone striker in the Mexico game, will start from the bench today, as Huddersfield's Jermaine Beckford could be the man making his debut as the pointman.
The side could also see the return of Luton Shelton in place of the tricky and fleet-footed Jermaine Johnson in space behind Beckford, with the Reading FC pair of Jobi McAnuff and Garath McCleary alongside Rodolph Austin and Marvin Elliott in midfield. The defensive line should be the same from the Mexico game, with Nosworthy and Adrian Mariappa anchoring central defence, with Demar Phillips and Jermaine Taylor occupying the flanks.
The Boyz appear set for a 4-4-2 formation, but could change to 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 when in possession of the ball, always with the emphasis on getting numbers in goalscoring areas.
Jamaica lost the last two games against Panama, at home on May 27 last year, and away in Panama City five days later. That will be of little significance today, and this Reggae Boyz band has been boosted significantly and in the end that is expected to make the difference.