Boyz have fate in own hands as they face Curacao

IAN BURNETT
SPORT EDITOR
AT THE CONCACAF GOLD CUP
In The USA

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

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LOS ANGELES, California — Avoid defeat and they're through to the quarter-finals.

That's the scenario that faces Jamaica's Reggae Boyz in their final round Group C encounter with Caribbean neighbours Curacao inside Banc of California Stadium today.

Kick-off is scheduled for 5:00 pm (7:00 pm Jamaica time), after which the already eliminated Honduras oppose El Salvador at 7:30 pm (9:30 pm Jamaica time).

Jamaica and El Salvador lead the four-team group on four points, with Jamaica in front on goal difference (more goals scored), with Curacao next on three points, and Honduras pointless at the foot of the table.

Should Jamaica secure at least a point today, they would guarantee themselves a place in the quarter-finals as either the winners or runners-up of the group. However, the winners of the group will only be determined at the end of the second contest, as goal difference could likely play a key role in that determination.

The winners of Group C will oppose the runners-up from Group D, currently being led by hosts the USA, on goal difference over Panama, while the runners-up from Group C oppose the winners of Group D in the quarter-finals next Sunday in Philadelphia. Both Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have been eliminated from Group D after two consecutive losses.

Jamaica opened their campaign with a 3-2 victory over Honduras in Kingston and followed up with a 0-0 result against El Salvador in Houston last Friday. However, the Jamaicans failed to convince on either occasion, though they got the results.

El Salvador were 1-0 winners over Curacao in Kingston, while Curacao edged Honduras 1-0 in Houston last Friday.

Head Coach Theodore Whitmore made two changes in the second game in an effort to find the right mix and chemistry, particularly in midfield, but he was still not pleased with last Friday's lack of fluidity.

“The first half we failed to connect the back of the team with the front and that would cause the lack of chemistry in the team. We did a better second half, especially after we brought in Nicholson (Shamar) and Mattocks (Darren) onto the pitch,” explained Whitmore.

He added: “At times, I think we did too much with the football individually and we tended to move the ball a bit slow and we didn't have a lot of penetration in the opponents' final third of the field.”

The coach added that while he was pleased with his defensive unit, his only concern was in the middle of the park, where the midfield is expected to connect with the defenders and the attackers.

With that in mind, he appears set to make four changes to his starting line-up, and based on yesterday's final practice session at the game venue, he seems to have got it just right, as that rendition was the best seen in a long while.

The 'A' team exhibited chemistry, quickness, aggression and football smarts not seen collectively in a while, which left the technical staff hopeful of a good showing today.

“We are positive, we are upbeat because tournaments are about results and we have gotten good results so far, though I think we had a chance to put away El Salvador and qualify for the next phase, unfortunately, we didn't get the win, the ball is in our court come tomorrow (today),” Whitmore told the media.

And as regards winning the group to possibly avoid the USA in the next round, Whitmore was not overly concerned about that, only to ensure qualification to the next stage.

“It's neither here nor there whether we win the group or finish runners-up, the most important thing is to get out of the group. It's a must win or at least to get a point from the game, so we expect Curacao to come throwing everything at us, so we have to prepare ourselves physically and mentally for the challenge they will bring to us,” he said.

Leon Bailey missed yesterday's practice session, though team doctor Derrick McDowell revealed that his x-rays and CT scans done on Sunday showed no bone damage to his right foot. He is expected to be available should Whitmore so desires.

Mattocks was also missing from the training session, as he was said to have flown back to his club FC Cincinnati for personal reasons, and was expected to rejoin the team.

Captain Andre Blake was in goal behind Kemar Lawrence, Shaun Francis, Damion Lowe and Alvas Powell in defence.

Veteran Je-Vaughn Watson came into midfield with Andre Lewis and Devon Williams, with Ricardo Morris, Junior Flemmings and Nicholson forming the front three.

Both starters and reserves looked businesslike and positive in their 45-minute session yesterday, unlike for previous games at this tournament when they looked disjointed, unimaginative and fatigued in their training sessions.

Michael Hector, who started the last two games even as he carries a groin strain, practised yesterday on the 'B' team, which though short a man, put up a decent showing also.

Curacao are an improving bunch and should not be taken for granted. They defeated Jamaica to lift the Caribbean Cup title two years ago, though the Boyz gained their revenge with a 2-0 victory in San Diego in the Gold Cup.

Last Friday, Leandro Bacuna notched the all-important goal to sink Honduras, while gifting his team a lifeline back into the tournament. It was the team's first goal in this their second Gold Cup, and they know that a victory would book their passage to the knockout round.

Elson Hooi was the main architect in midfield and the burly Charlison Benschop was a tower of strength as the point man.

But Whitmore would have been happy with the number of chances they conceded against Honduras, which is an indication that they are not the most compact or organised in defence.

And the fact that they now have to win or avoid defeat and hope that El Salvador lose to Honduras creates a scenario where they are likely to push numbers in attack and leave themselves vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Will the Reggae Boyz be able to capitalise? Only time will tell.

Jamaica's squad is completed by Dwayne Miller, Amal Knight, Jamoi Topey, Michael Hector, Malique Foster, Leon Bailey, Darren Mattocks, Dever Orgill, Peter Lee Vassell, Brian Brown, Tyreek Magee, Kevon Lambert.


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