Final assault
Members of the ReggaeBoyz squad going throughtheir paces during a lightpractoce session insidethe National Stadiumon Wednesday evening.(Photo: Karl Mclarty)
Back-against-the-wall Boyz brace for Mexico test

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz, already facing an uphill task, will begin a final assault on the Fifa World Cup Concacaf Qualifying campaign on Thursday when they play hosts to regional powerhouse Mexico, who are reeling from two consecutive defeats.

Game time is 7:00 pm behind closed doors at National Stadium.

In other games in the ninth of 14 rounds of the campaign, leaders Canada visit bottom-of-the-table Honduras for an 8:05 pm kick-off; USA welcome El Salvador at 7:00 pm, and Costa Rica entertain Panama beginning at 9:05 pm.

The Reggae Boyz have had a weak start to the campaign and are on the outside looking in at sixth place in the eight-nation group on seven points. Canada lead with 16 points in a tight top four, which is completed by the USA on 15, with Mexico and Panama next on 14 points.

Costa Rica are on nine points in fifth place, with El Salvador (six) and Honduras (three) being the back markers in seventh and eighth places, respectively.

The top three teams at the end of the series will book direct berths to Fifa Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals, while the fourth-placed team will enter an inter-continental play-off for a shot at another ticket to Qatar.

For interim Head Coach Paul Hall, who replaced Theodore Whitmore after the last round of matches in November, a win is vital, though not losing is also integral to the plan.

“I've made the point that we've got to take it one game at a time and we've got to be hard to beat. Now winning the game is really important, but not losing the game is quite vital to what we are doing, so it's really important that yeah, we want to win every game that we play; the type of coach I am I play to win.

“However, during the game and during the story it could easily change, so yes, the players already know what we need to do and what we want to do. Like I've said, it's going out and executing the plan in the way how it was set out to be and then having thinking players who can adjust and adapt to what the game gives them,” Hall stated at a presser on Wednesday.

Jamaica opened their campaign at the Azteca in September and held the home side at 1-1 until the 89th minute when substitute Henry Martin broke their hearts with a late winner.

Gerardo Martino's men had taken a 59th-minute lead through Ernesto Vega Rojas, only for Shamar Nicholson to drag the Boyz back into contention on 65 minutes.

But after eight rounds of games, the Mexicans have proved that they are not as potent as they once were, having won four, drawn two and lost their last two — 0-2 to the US and 1-2 to Canada during the November window.

Still, Hall is fully aware of the threat that the two-time World Cup Finals hosts possess.

“There is a few Mexican players that I am looking forward to not seeing,” he told reporters Wednesday.

He added: “As a team, the movement and rotations that go on in their team is very good. I think we will see a Mexican team that will probably see the game as winnable, but they won't want to lose.

“They will have the same attitude as ourselves, so I feel it will be a tight affair, but where we respect the Mexicans and what they bring, I will ask my team to make Mexico respect what we bring with our energy, with our rhythm and with our desire and obviously the fact that we are at home.”

Hall says he expects the visitors to attack in wide areas, based on his video analyses of how they play. “They possess the ball very well and it is not even so much individuals I want to talk about, it's the movements of Mexico; they are comfortable in possession, they rotate, they like to drop people into defence to try to build their attacks, so we've got to prepare for that and not be surprised by that because Mexico can play some very attacking, quick football, so the two wide men are people that we've got to keep our eyes on. “

Last Thursday Hall took charge of a largely locally based squad which suffered three goals in a loss to Peru away in Lima. But for the first-half display Hall believes the team exhibited some of what they have planned.

“I've had a week with the team for Peru and I think in the first half you saw the benefits of having a week. I will have had two hours with this team, so it's difficult for a style of play to come out. I can improve them to get the ball down and play,” he explained.

While the Mexicans have lost the last two games, Jamaica have been unbeaten in their last four, winning one and drawing three, and had it not been for some amount of profligacy in front of goal, in addition to atrocious officiating, the Boyz could have had better numbers on the board.

But at this crucial stage of the game, it's all about the mindset for Hall, and he believes he's seen enough to suggest that his charges are ready for the challenge.

“It's about what mindset the players have turned up with. This is all about mindset; we know what we've got to do. The players look engaged, they look like they are in the right mindset, and I think we need to carry that through to tonight's (Wednesday's) training and then it's all up to the players.

“We can help them through the game [against Mexico] and the games [against Panama and Costa Rica] and I just think that the players know what's expected of them and there is probably a slight anxiousness about them, which is good, because they are playing against a good team, but we are on home turf, so yeah, the mindset is key and I think the players' mindset is good.”

Following tonight's game, the Boyz will travel to Panama City on Friday ahead of Sunday's game against the hosts. They return to Kingston on Monday to prepare for Costa Rica's visit for Wednesday's game.

And already seven points off an automatic place, nothing less than two wins from the next three games will keep their slim hopes alive.

The campaign concludes with Jamaica hosting El Salvador on March 24, visiting Canada on March 27, before returning home to entertain Honduras on March 30.

Jamaica (from): Amal Knight, Dwayne Miller, Andre Blake, Kevin Stewart, Damion Lowe, Alvas Powell, Lamar Walker, Kemar Lawrence, Adrian Mariappa, Junior Flemmings, Peter Vassell, Devon Williams, Bobby Reid, Liam Moore, Andre Gray, Michail Antonio, Ethan Pinnock, Javon East, Gregory Leigh, Cory Burke, Javain Brown, Daniel Johnson, Ravel Morrison.

Concacaf Final Round Points Standings

Teams MP W D L GF GA GD Pts

Canada 8 4 4 0 13 5 8 16

USA 8 4 3 1 12 5 7 15

Mexico 8 4 2 2 11 7 4 14

Panama 8 4 2 2 11 9 2 14

Costa Rica 8 2 3 3 6 7 -1 9

Jamaica 8 1 4 3 6 10 -4 7

El Salvador 8 1 3 4 4 10 -6 6

Honduras 8 0 3 5 5 15 -10 3

Members of the Mexican team going throughtheir paces at the National Stadium onWednesday evening. (Photos: Karl Mclarty)
Reggae Boyz goalkeeper coach Warren Barrett (left) in discussion with goalkeeper Amal Knight during a practice session at the National Stadium on Wednesday evening.
BY IAN BURNETT Sport Editor

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