Boyz prepare for tough Canada test in Nations League quarter-finals
LOWE (foreground)...the team looks very focused to get the results (Photo: Observer file)

Weather permitting, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will have a 14-game unbeaten run in the Concacaf Nations League to protect when they meet Canada in their quarter-final match-up this evening at 7:00 at the National Stadium.

Jamaica advanced to this stage with wins over Honduras, and Grenada, and a win and draw over Haiti, while Canada received a bye to this stage based on their rating in Concacaf. Although Jamaica has never lost to Canada as a host, they must not pay much attention to that fact as their opponent has a squad considered by many to be its golden generation of players, especially after competing creditably at the FIFA World Cup a year ago.

Head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson is aware of the threat posed by Canada and has spoken about the importance of getting the preparation right since before his previous match, a 0-0 draw with Guatemala in an international friendly in New Jersey on Saturday.

Given the short time he has had to get his squad together, there would be concerns about the team's readiness but he says they are prepared.

"So far, so good," he said in the pre-match press conference on Thursday morning. "Some late incoming players always make it difficult for us to do tactical training but I think we've done the best out of what we had and the time we had with the players coming in. I'm quite happy with this camp."

Hallgrímsson says injuries to defender Amari'i Bell and winger Demarai Gray have forced him to make tough decisions about his starting 11 for the game.

"We're just taking it day by day," he said. "Most of the players are fit and ready, but we are not writing anyone off – for this game or the next [the second leg]. It's going to be a late fitness test tomorrow."

Jamaica beat Honduras 1-0, then drew 2-2 with Haiti. They followed that up with a 4-1 win over Grenada then a 3-2 win over Haiti in their second meeting.

While the team has gotten the right results in this competition, there is still an issue about goal concession but Hallgrímsson says the priority is outscoring the opponents.

"If we score more than the opponents, I don't think a clean sheet matters," he said. "We've scored a lot of goals, that wasn't in the question. We've been scoring more and more goals. That was a relief but of course, we always like to keep a clean sheet, especially [over two legs] like this.

"Even though we don't have the best of games if we can keep a clean sheet, then we always have a possibility to win. But we take the defending very seriously in this team."

Vice-captain Damion Lowe is positive about the team morale, especially because of how the training sessions have gone.

"Training has been really good, the guys look sharp," he said. "The team looks very focused to get the results."

Hallgrímsson says this also is because the team's performances have improved.

"We have been playing better, as a team," he said. "We have been a little bit inconsistent in between matches but also in matches. But I feel that we are playing longer spells of good rather than bad, so the good spells are extended. We are scoring more goals; the connections are because of the stability in team selections and squad selections. The players are understanding each other better, both defensively and attacking."

He says this is the worst time for Canada to face Jamaica.

"What's important is that the players in their clubs are doing really well," he said. "If you look across all our selections, the players are playing 90 minutes every game and they are doing well. That's really important for the national team."

Hallgrímsson is not concerned about individual talent on the Canadian team, such as Bayern Munich fullback Alphonso Davies.

"We know the quality of Alphonso if he gets space and time to run at us, and not just us, everyone," he said. "He's lethal, he's playing at the highest level and has shown again and again and again how good he is. He's kind of Canada's Messi – they look for him when they need something to happen. On the ball, things happen quickly around him. A lot of players will start moving when he's on the ball, so for sure he's one of the guys we have been talking about closing down."

Jamaica is under a tropical storm watch until Friday morning, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness has warned the public to "take precautionary measures, keep informed, and be ready for quick action if flooding is observed or if a warning is issued".

But Hallgrímsson is not too concerned by this.

"The forecast is bad, isn't it? We cannot change the weather; we have a lot of power but we can't change the weather. So, why bother about it? I don't think it would change the way we want to play, maybe some minor tweaks, but it's no reason why we should be afraid of the weather. Both teams are going to play in it and we can't change it so we just accept whatever weather comes," he said.

Lowe, on the other hand, says it could be to Jamaica's advantage.

"It probably works in our favour because we're used to this and Canada isn't," he said. "They've been getting rain all week in Miami; we haven't. This is probably the first day of rain for us in training so I think it would probably work in our favour."

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator

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