HOWARD WALKER With the U-20 REGGAE BOYZ @ THE CONCACAF WORLD CUP PLAY-OFFS IN MEXICO
PUEBLA, Mexico — Jamaica Under-20 footballers begin their quest for World Cup glory today when they bow into action against Puerto Rico at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc here, starting at 5:30 pm (6:30 pm Jamaica time).
Jamaica will be hoping to be the second Under-20 team to qualify for a FIFA World Cup since 2001 in Argentina and the fifth at all levels.
In addition to the historic 1998 success to France with the senior Reggae Boyz, Jamaica also qualified for the 1999 Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand; the 2001 Under-20 World Cup in Argentina and the 2011 Under-17 Mexico World Cup.
The 12-team CONCACAF tournament kicked off yesterday with the teams split into four groups of three teams, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. From there, the winners will advance to the semi-finals and also earn automatic qualification to the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, set for June 21 to July 13.
Jamaica are drawn in Group C, alongside Panama and Puerto Rico, and they are paired with Group D which has 11-time and defending champion Mexico, El Salvador and Curacao.
The winner of Group C will play the runner-up in Group D, hence, it would be an easier passage if Jamaica topped the group and possibly avoid regional powerhouse Mexico, who are expected to top Group D.
The United States of America are in Group A, with Costa Rica and Haiti, while Group B comprises Canada, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Jamaica qualified for the CONCACAF stage after seeing off Antigua and Barbuda 1-0, whipped Suriname 3-0, and battled to a 0-0 draw with Cuba in the final Caribbean qualifiers held in Jamaica in November 2012.
They then left the island on February 5 for a two-week training camp in Toluca, Mexico, and were very competitive against the usually strong American team in two friendlies. On February 10, they lost 1-2, and two days later, they played to a 1-1 result after conceding an early own goal.
With that in mind, Jamaica should enter today's game against Puerto Rico in a confident mood.
Only six members of this squad played in the Under-17 World Cup. They are Omar Holness, Zhelano Barnes, Andre Lewis, Alvas Powell, Romario Jones, and goalkeeper Nico Campbell. Of the lot, five could start today.
Rashaun Patterson, formerly of Camperdown, seemed to have grabbed the number one spot in the goalkeeping department and should get the nod ahead of Campbell of St George's College.
The Young Reggae Boyz have a formidable backline and will be led by new captain Alvas Powell of Paul Bogle High who has already played for the senior team.
The towering Shawn Lawes of Arnett Gardens should partner Powell in the heart of defence and, along with Kareem Manning, Sean McFarlane and Zhelano Barnes, should be able to hold their own against Puerto Rico.
Another player with senior team experience, the skilful Andre Lewis of St George's College, should lead a more familiar looking midfield with Omar Holness and Romario Jones. The fourth spot is up for grabs. The diminutive Paul Wilson of Portmore United could fill that spot.
The forward line should be selected from Oshana Boothe of Rae Town and St George's College, Cleon Pryce of Glenmuir and Portmore United, or Kendon Anderson of St George's and Portmore United.
Puerto Rico finished second in the Caribbean Qualifiers in Jamaica last November, behind Haiti, and are considered the weakest team in Group C. And with that in mind, Jamaica should be able to secure three valuable points and basically book a spot in the next round.
Jamaican squad: Goalkeeper — Rashaun Patterson (Portmore United), Nico Campbell (Cavalier FC); Defenders — Alvas Powell (Portmore United), Zhelano Barnes (Cavalier FC), Javaun Waugh (Clarendon College), Kereen Manning (Portmore United), Shawn Lawes (Arnett Gardens FC), Damion Lowe (University of Hartford/USA), Sean McFarlane (St Leo University/USA); Midfielders — Romario Jones (Cavalier FC), Omar Holness (unattached), Keniel Kirlew (Montego Bay United FC), Andre Lewis (Portmore United), Mark Brown (Cavalier FC), Andrew Allen (Arnett Gardens FC), Rickardo Oldham (Arnett Gardens FC), Paul Wilson (Portmore United); Forwards — Oshana Boothe (Rae Town FC), Cleon Pryce (Portmore United), Kendan Anderson (Portmore United).