‘THIS IS BIG FOR US’
THE Reggae Boyz playing in CONMEBOL’s Copa America tournament isn’t new but beating Canada on Tuesday in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals to qualify for the 2024 edition of the South American showpiece feels like a major step in the right direction.
The national senior men’s team trailed 3-1 on aggregate with less than 45 minutes to play but rallied valiantly with two goals from Shamar Nicholson and a penalty from Bobby Decordova-Reid which sealed their spot in the last four of the Nations League as well as earned them a coveted spot in the Copa America for the third time.
Head Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is very much aware of the significant impact the result has on the future of the national team.
“After the World Cup, the Copa America is on the same scale as the Euros in terms of quality of teams that are there, the quality of the individuals playing,” he said. “For Jamaica, and especially the [Jamaica Football] Federation (JFF), it’s huge. I’m just putting into perspective[that] this was probably the most important game for Jamaica in a long time.
“In perspective, when you’re building a team and you can play a tournament like Copa America, it helps a lot in the development because that’s the only time that a coach can really spend with the players [for] a month or month and a half. And when you add another tournament, the semi-final, and hopefully a final of the Nations League, it gives us the opportunity to be together much longer than a short Fifa break, especially in Jamaica when players always come a day or two late because of distance. So, it just gives us a chance to grow as a football team. The biggest thing is financial for the JFF, that doesn’t have a lot of money, so in many ways it’s a big thing.”
Miguel Coley has experience with a team at the Copa America level as he served as assistant to Winfried Schaefer for the Reggae Boyz’ appearances in 2015 and 2016.
Watching the current team qualify left him overjoyed, and he says it can be a stepping stone similar to what he and the former players experienced.
“For me, it’s a proud moment,” Coley told the Jamaica Observer. “The manner how it was done is fantastic. It shows how much the players wanted it and how they are bonding as a group.
“The Copa America 2015 for us at the time was pivotal. We not only had credible performances in a tough group but it was our foundation on reaching the final of the Gold Cup in 2015.”
Coley has urged Hallgrimsson to keep the team spirit alive ahead of the tournament next summer because he knows what a disjointed programme can lead to.
“On the back of winning [the] Caribbean Cup, going to the finals of the Gold Cup, and winning a friendly against Copa America champions Chile, things were not the same in 2016. There were off-the-field issues that slowly destroyed the team’s DNA so [it] was not a great tournament for the Boyz.
“How to approach the tournament is really up to [Hallgrimsson] and his staff but the only thing I would say is for them to protect the togetherness and loyalty each player has for each other.”
The Reggae Boyz will know their opponents in a matter of weeks as the draw for the 2024 edition will take place on Thursday, December 7. Copa America will be held in the United States from June 20 to July 14.
Before that, the Jamaicans will seek regional glory when they battle with the USA in the semi-finals of the Nations League, on Thursday, March 21.
The winner will play either Mexico or Panama for the title.