Sport

Reggae Boyz relish Saudi Arabia clash

BY IAN BURNETT
Sport editor

Saturday, October 07, 2017

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Despite not being recognised as a friendly international 'A' game, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will still have an opportunity to showcase their talent when they oppose World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia inside the fabulous King Abdullah Sports City stadium today at 8:45 pm (12:45 pm Jamaica time).

The Saudis, more popularly known as The Falcons, are considered one of Asia's most successful teams, having won the Confederation's Asian Cup on three occasions, including on debut in 1984, as well as 1988 and 1996. They have qualified for the FIFA World Cup on five occasions, including four consecutive appearances since their debut appearance in 1994. They missed the 2010 and 2014 editions, but duly qualified for Russia next year.

They have qualified for the Confederations Cup on four occasions, with a best result of second place in 1992.

With such strong pedigree, Jamaica's Head Coach Theodore Whitmore is over the moon for the opportunity today's game provides for his players, particularly those still parading their skills in the Red Stripe Premier League back home.

“It is a very difficult game situation but we welcome these sorts of challenges. And I keep reiterating that these are the types of games that we want our local players to come and showcase their talent, and tomorrow's game affords us that. We are looking for a positive performance from them,” he told the Jamaica Observer following the team's final training session at the game venue last evening.

Whitmore admitted that he knew very little about the Saudis, except that they have already qualified for the Russia World Cup, but he was more concerned with his team and their effort on the pitch today.

“We would want a few of these players to catch the eyes of scouts or clubs in this part of the world,” asserted Whitmore, who could be reinstalled as the head coach of the Reggae Boyz in a few weeks' time.

As a result, Whitmore has opted to give youngsters Alex Marshall (debut) and Devon Williams their first starting berth in the senior Reggae Boyz team. The starting eleven also includes Jamiel Hardware of Boys' Town, Ewan Grandison of Portmore United, and Ladale Richie of Montego Bay United, all of whom parade their skills locally.

The coach has opted for an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richie and Damion Lowe pairing at centre back, Shaun Francis at left back, and the versatile Oniel Fisher at right back.

Grandison and Devon Williams will hope to add solidity to central midfield, with Marshall, Captain Je-Vaughn Watson and Hardware lending support to lone striker Romario Williams.

Dwayne Miller will be in goal.

The coach explained that he was forced to employ this formation due to a shortage of striking options on this trip.

“Due to certain circumstances we are short in strikers. We lost out on Mattocks (Darren), and what we don't want to do is start both Seaton (Michael) and Williams (Romario) at the same time. We can shift around the other players, but we want an out and out striker to offer us what we need to play in this sort of situation,” explained Whitmore.

He also noted that he wanted to build a team which was flexible and easily able to adapt to game situations.

“I think now is the time to chop and change things so, based on the squad we have here, I think we can work on that. Plus, we don't want to stick to just one formation, and like we did in the Gold Cup, we want to be a team that can adjust to any situation.”

The head coach appeared to be forward planning in his approach at leaving out the most experienced defender, the 32-year-old Minnesota United FC standout, Jermaine Taylor.

“Taylor is a senior player, but he just joined the team along with a few others, but he is much older, so we have to start looking to replace these players and this is a good chance to do so,” he said.

At training yesterday the first team, while vastly superior in terms of numbers, looked sharp and attacked in droves which gave substitute goalkeeper Damion Hyatt very little chance in goal.

Whitmore was happy with what he saw.

“We need numbers in attack and apart from Watson, everybody on the frontline are proven goalscorers and the work rate that a Watson possesses will help us going up and down, so that's what we need; and we have Devon Williams and Grandison to add that balance in midfield,” he ended.

The squad is completed by Damion Hyatt, Jermaine Taylor, Rosario Harriott, Marvin Morgan, Chevone Marsh, Fabian Reid, Ricardo Morris, and Michael Seaton.

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