'Tappa' on edge
...Offers mixed reaction to readiness of Boyz, tour of Japan as Gold Cup loomsTuesday, June 15, 2021
BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
MIAMI, Florida — For Head Coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, it's not all smooth sailing for his Reggae Boyz on the eve of the Concacaf Gold Cup.
There is so much to ponder for the coach, and so little to be pleased about with under four weeks before the Boyz kick off against Suriname on July 12 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. Jamaica, who will contest Group C, have Costa Rica and another team that will be promoted through the Gold Cup Preliminary Round tournament.
Among his many concerns is the fitness state of a number of players. At the time of writing, he was also worried that a number of English-based players may not get their Jamaican passports in time to make the final cut for the July 10 to August 1 tournament.
On the recent tour of Japan where Jamaica played two practice games against Serbia in Kobe and the Japanese Olympic squad in Aichi, Whitmore's jury is still out for a definitive ruling that the east Asia trek lived up to expectations from a technical programme standpoint.
Two things that were critical elements of the technical staff's plans for the Japan tour and which were unrealised were to have a 30-man squad on the ground and three matches.
In the final analysis, some nine key players backed out of the trip for one reason or another on the 11th hour before departure to Japan.
The Boyz hit another bump in the road when nine other players — most of them English-born, among them a few debutants — had anomalies with their COVID-19 negative test result certificates and were refused boarding rights by the airline on a connection in Amsterdam.
The days lost to correct that matter created an embarrassment for the country as it was not able to field a team in their first scheduled match against Japan's senior men's team in Sapporo on June 3.
That forced a cancellation of the fixture, and by all reports, the Japan Football Association is quietly up in arms about the fiasco.
In the end, Whitmore ended up with 19 players of his revised 22-man squad as three others did not make the trip — one given time off to deal with an injury and two were denied due to travelling arrangement cock-ups.
The coach is still trying to get a measure of whether the Japan tour, and everything else leading up to this point, will redound to the benefit of the Gold Cup campaign.
“Firstly, we had set out to play three games and we were looking at the trip to Japan as a pre-Gold Cup camp. As you know, the original squad we selected to come to Japan was a 30-man strong one, and this would have been the group that we wanted to play in the Gold Cup.
“When we take into consideration the time spent together, going into the Gold Cup we are going to miss a lot in terms of the chemistry, the physical conditioning of the team and team bonding and building going into the Gold Cup,” Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer.
“We have lost some time on this tour heading into the Gold Cup, and then again, when you look at it the Gold Cup is just a few weeks away, and at this stage we have a number of players out injured and we don't know what condition we are going to get them in,” he said.
Whitmore, who was a key figure in Jamaica's historical qualification to the Fifa Word Cup in France 1998, said selecting his final squad for the Concacaf showpiece puts him in an awkward position.
“It's a risk to select this Gold Cup squad not knowing the conditions of the players,” was his retort.
The governing Jamaica Football Federation has been caught up, for the past week or so, in a frantic race against time to secure Jamaican passports for several English-born players.
With the deadline for submission of the provisional list of 60 players due yesterday, Whitmore said there needs to be a clear and pursued policy regarding foreign-born players representing the national team.
“That is a concern [some players without passport], but we have to take some licks for that [situation]. Personally, I don't believe any player should represent the country and don't have Jamaican citizenship, or don't have a Jamaican passport. And if my memory serves me well, I think it's a long-standing policy of the federation,” said Whitmore.
A few of the English-born players who figured in the two matches in Japan were not holders of Jamaican passports, but their applications were said to be advanced in many of the cases.
“Right now, all we have to do is hope and keep our fingers crossed and see where we go from here,” said the tactician.
Looking back on the Japan tour, where the Boyz drew 1-1 with Serbia, but sank to a 0-4 defeat to a Japanese Under-24 squad, which consisted of players expected to feature in the Olympic team, he noted, “It [Japan tour] has afforded us two games against two quality opponents, and again we got a chance to see some more players and we also got a chance to identify players, and those players have the quality in areas that we are weak. I think we were able to find those missing pieces.
“But at the end of the day, it is just to have everybody ready in terms of documentation, fitness and everything else,” stated Whitmore.
Breaking down the Serbia match, the former Tranmere Rovers midfielder gave a mixed reaction.
“I was somewhat pleased with the Serbia game, and I would not say we were at a hundred per cent. I think we were okay for the first 45 minutes, but I think in the second half there was a drop in concentration, plus fatigue took its toll.
“We also have to take into consideration the stress the players had to deal with in getting to Japan and then not allowed to leave their rooms because of the protocols [related to the COVID-19 bubble], so all things considered, I think we achieved our objective in the Serbia game, and I think we could have easily walked away victorious,” he reasoned.
Whitmore, who was out sick with a stomach problem, said it would not be fair to comment on the debacle of the Japan Under-24s until all the facts are in. Plus, he noted, he is still awaiting a report from Assistant Coach Jerome Waite, who oversaw the fixture.
“I don't want to get into that [game against Japan Under-24s] until I see the report from the assistant coach. But I have a made my observations to submit to the technical committee, so I am just waiting on his piece before I can make a definitive comment as far as that is concerned,” Whitmore ended.
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