Cuba friendlies opportunity for local players

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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Reggae Boyz team manager Roy Simpson says the two proposed friendly international matches against Cuba in Jamaica next month should provide yet another opportunity for local-based players to stake their claim for spots in the final Concacaf Nations League squad.

Cuba, who are also participating in the qualifying phase of the confederation-wide tournament, are scheduled to tackle rivals Jamaica at the Catherine Hall Sports Complex in Montego Bay on Tuesday, October 2, and will close out the visit with another match-up three days later at the immaculate Drax Hall ground in St Ann.

“Although they are scheduled to be played outside of the Fifa window, I always see these types of games as opportunity for the local players to expose themselves and try to get into the final selection for the Nations League game against Bonaire in Curacao.

“We have always said that we welcome all international friendlies whether inside or outside the Fifa window, and I think these two games will provide good exposure for our local players and we hope that they continue to seize the opportunities we provide them and use them to impose themselves in trying to get into the final squad,” Simpson told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

The experienced senior Boyz manager argues that while Jamaica would be ahead of Cuba in ranking and overall strength, he expects their Spanish-speaking neighbours to bring the traditional intensity that has defined the long-standing Caribbean rivalry.

“We believe that the Cubans are formidable opponents and they have always given us good competitive games, though we believe at this stage of our development and progress, we are ahead of them, it is never our attitude to take any opponent lightly, so we will approach these games conscious of the fact that we are aware of the kind of opponents the Cubans can be,” Simpson noted.

The Cubans served notice of their potential as a deadly force when they visited a massive 11-0 scoreline on the Turks and Caicos island in their first Nations League qualifying match earlier this month.

The Boyz, following their 4-0 win over the Cayman Islands in their opening match of the Nations League in Kingston on Sunday, September 9, are using the Cuba games to fine-tune for the next assignment against tiny Bonaire in neighbouring Curacao on Sunday, October 14.

Simpson said even though Bonaire would appear a walk in the park by Jamaica's standards, nothing but a comprehensive victory will suffice.

“If you look at the result in their (Bonaire) opening game in the Nations League, one would want to think that we going up against them would be an easy task, but we do not believe that.

“We believe we will get the better of Bonaire, but we just don't want to get the better of them, we want to be decisive,” he stated.

In their opening game, Bonaire were blanked 5-0 by the Dominican Republic.

Simpson said the Boyz intend to finish the qualifying phase of the Nations League in impressive form as the seek to qualify for the Gold Cup, which is a key objective of the programme.

“We understand the format of the Nations League to be that it is the final standing of each team from the respective groups that will advance to the respective tiers and we want to finish in the top-six overall because that's what gets you into League A and gets you into the Gold Cup pot.

“We are the back-to-back finalists in the last two editions of the Gold Cup, and we believe that we need to be in the Gold Cup next year. In fact, we believe that after two consecutive finals it is now our time to lift the Gold Cup and that is what we are focused on,” he said.

Having started with a victory in their opening match, Simpson stated that the team is in an upbeat mood, though in retrospect, he thought a better performance against Cayman would further ignite the campaign.

“The vibe is good as we got three points and four goals, but as I have said, I don't believe that was sufficient as we should have gotten a few more goals, but maybe the players were fatigued because of the closeness of the game against Ecuador which was two days earlier, but we are aware of the position that we are in now after the first round of matches and we understand that we have some work to do,” Simpson ended.

Two days before Jamaica engaged Cayman, they had a practice game against Conmebol's Ecuador in New Jersey. The South Americans won 2-0.

After Bonaire, Jamaica welcome Suriname on November 17, and will close out the qualifying Nations League campaign away to El Salvador on March 3, 2019.

Cuba, meantime, will visit Grenada on October 12, welcome the Dominican Republic on November 17, and will have a big showdown with Haiti on March 24, 2019.

Haiti, after one set of matches in the tournament, lead the points standing by goal difference with a whopping 13-0 victory over St Maarten, followed by Cuba's 11-0 win over the Turks and Caicos Islands. Jamaica are in seventh position following their modest 4-0 triumph over Cayman.

– Sean Williams

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