Sport

STAY ON TRACK

Whitmore focuses on momentum heading into Aruba clash

BY IAN BURNETT
Sport editor

Saturday, October 12, 2019

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Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will look to continue their strong start to the Concacaf Nations League Group C of League B campaign when they host bottom-placed Aruba inside Kingston's National Stadium at 5:00 pm today.

The Boyz lead the group on maximum six points after crushing Antigua and Barbuda 6-0 at Catherine Hall Sports Complex, before blanking Guyana 4-0 away a few days later.

Antigua and Barbuda are also on six points — but from three games — having defeated Guyana 2-1 yesterday. Guyana are next on three points, also from three games, with Aruba pointless at the foot of the four-team standings.

Jamaica and Aruba will do it again in Curacao next Tuesday at 6:00 pm (Jamaica time), in the home and away tie.

Performing well in the Concacaf Nations League and maintaining a top six ranking in Concacaf guarantees Jamaica an automatic berth in the hexagonal of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers which are slated to begin next year, and that's the focus of Head Coach Theodore Whitmore.

“The team goal is for us to continue on the path that we have started on. We have played two solid games — solid performances — we have got some goals, so we want to build on that going forward,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“The Nations League is very important in more ways than one because if you top the group then you would have qualified for the next Gold Cup — and that is something that we want to achieve. And we want to stay in the hexagonal because anything outside of that we are asking for problems. So there's a lot of at stake so we need to give a good account of ourselves — not just tomorrow [today], but for the rest of games to come.”

Whitmore, the hero of the 1998 World Cup campaign, added: “The good thing is that I think the players know what is at stake in terms of the qualification for the Gold Cup, so we will leave no stone unturned. And despite what is happening, we have to put the off-the-field issues behind us and just focus on our main objective — and that is what I think the players are doing at the moment.

The 23-man squad assembled earlier this week in Trelawny before travelling to Kingston on Thursday, and Whitmore is pleased with the effort of the players and what was achieved.

“Well, to be honest, I'm pretty much satisfied,” he admitted. “We were in Braco, the environment [was good], everybody at one place, the camaraderie, there was no place to go [outside distraction] — the field is right there, so the training sessions were intense, spirited. So I'm very pleased with what transpired over the last couple of days going into the game tomorrow [today), and it continued this morning [yesterday].

“We had a wrap-up of our final session this morning at National Stadium, and the good thing is that we have no injuries to report and everybody is fit, everybody is looking forward to the game.”

In the first two games Jamaica appeared fluent in the movement of the ball from defence through to attack and the team was able to create many chances, mainly through the industry of England-based Bobby Reid and Germany-based Leon Bailey.

Both are absent from today's match but Whitmore is not concerned, as he believes there is enough depth in the squad to maintain the standard set in the last few games.

“The players who are out now, I think we have suitable replacements. That is not a concern. Again, my concern always remains the back of the park in terms of the centre halves, right back, left back and central midfield — that's my concern. But for now, with the players who are out we have suitable replacements to fill that void,” he offered.

Aruba lost their opening game 0-1 at home to Guyana in September, then a few days later lost 1-2 away to Antigua and Barbuda, rendering them desperate for a win to keep themselves in the race for a chance to advance as group winners. With that in mind, Whitmore and his charges had better not take them lightly.

Whitmore has promised just a few changes, but has stuck to the same defensive line which has kept two clean sheets thus far in a tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation.

Captain Andre Blake is expected to tend goal, guarded by Adrian Mariappa and Damion Lowe in the centre of defence, and flanked by Kemar Lawrence on the left and Alvas Powell — who scored a brace last time out — on the right. Central midfield responsibilities will be co-shared by veteran Je-Vaughn Watson and Devon Williams, with three attacking midfielders in Alex Marshall, Brian Brown (left) and Dever Orgill (right), behind point man, the ever improving Shamar Nicholson.

The full squad is complemented by Amal Knight, Akeem Chambers, Fabion McCarthy, Andre Lewis, Lamar Walker, Kevaughn Isaacs, Ajeanie Talbott, Chavany Willis, Javon East, Shaun Francis, Junior Flemmings, and Maalique Foster.

The team departs Jamaica tomorrow afternoon via charter flight to Curacao for the return game on Tuesday.


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