Sport

Players give Centennial Cup America thumbs up

Sean Williams

Friday, May 02, 2014    

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MIAMI, Florida — Three recognisable names in football have given their thumbs up to the new Centennial Cup America, which was formally announced to the world at a press function here, yesterday.

All three — two former players and one World Cup winner approaching his twilight -- believed the merged Copa America with six of CONCACAF's top-six for the 2016 celebratory tournament to mark 100 years of CONMEBOL, will bring tremendous benefits to both confederations.

Former Jamaica captain and head coach Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore noted that while the Caribbean as a whole may stand to reap from such a super championship, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz have a grand opportunity as host of the CFU Caribbean Cup to both book their spot to next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Centennial Cup America.

"It's a historic moment and a motivation for players and countries, especially Jamaica, to qualify so we can be a part of this Centennial Cup America, so we want to see where we are going forward as we look to our 2018 programme, so a cup like this will certainly boost that," said the France 1998 Jamaican star.

Whitmore is of the view that a tournament made up of South America's and CONCACAF's best ought to present the Boyz with perhaps unprecedented test of their depth in a tournament of this size and quality.

"It is a chance for us to match up against the best of South America. We are looking forward to it and I would love Jamaica to be a part of this historic moment, so now we need to just do well in the Caribbean Cup and get a place in the Gold Cup," said Whitmore, who was head coach when Jamaica failed to qualify for last year's Gold Cup.

Former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop said yesterday's announcement holds mouthwatering prospects for not only Caribbean teams hungry for exposure, but for all others in CONCACAF.

"I am excited by it (Centennial Cup America) as we have always battled how to develop and showcase Caribbean football, so to have guaranteed representation in this tournament of the Copa America Centennial is great.

"I think it's a huge coup for Jeffrey Webb as CONCACAF president and I am just excited at the prospects... I have thought that meaningful challenge is something that we always wanted as part of the development process, so having a Caribbean team at the Copa America will force us to be at our best, and will force us beyond what has been our limit for so long," said Hislop, now a respected footballer analyst with ESPN.

Hislop, who plied his goalkeeping trade with English sides Reading, Newcastle, Portsmouth and West Ham, said he would have relished playing in such a mega tournament, even though he has played at the very highest level for his native Trinidad at the 2006 World Cup.

"Absolutely, that's why we play the game. We always want to be testing ourselves against the best the world has to offer, and there's no question that some of the best players are coming out of South America, there's no question that this will be a significant test for Caribbean countries and (the wider) CONCACAF," said Hislop in his typical eloquent style.

Kleberson, who featured in five of Brazil's seven matches during their rampage to the 2002 FIFA World Cup title, said excitement is building at the prospect of the Copa America being played outside the continent for the first time.

"It is going to be a special event, but of course a little different and there is a lot of expectations as there will be many talented players and national teams. This tournament will also help to spread CONCACAF's name throughout the world," he told the Jamaica Observer.

When quizzed if he would have fancied playing in the joint tournament, Kleberson, said: "For sure."

The 32-year-old Brazilian, who has had a stint with Manchester United and was a member of his country's 2004 Copa America winning squad, currently plays for Indy Eleven in the North American Soccer League.

All three -- along with Chile's Elias Figueroa, USA's Cobi Jones, Mexico Pavel Pardo, Juan Pablo Sorin of Argentina -- were recognised at yesterday's press launch at the St Regis Bal Harbor Hotel as legends of the game in their own rights.

"It feels good when you are recognised when you are alive because many people only get that when they are dead. So it felt good to be recognised this way and be one of the faces of CONCACAF and the face of your country," said Whitmore.

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