Hallgrimsson says Bailey key ahead of must-win against Canada
Forward Leon Bailey is set to start for the Reggae Boyz despite mounting public criticism. (Photo: LGSniperSports)

Reggae Boyz Head Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson has leaped to the defence of forward Leon Bailey ahead of this evening's crucial Concacaf Nations League quarter-final second leg against Canada at the BMO Field in Toronto.

The Jamaicans lost the first leg 2-1 on Saturday morning at the National Stadium, with Bailey receiving heavy backlash from supporters inside the National Stadium and on social media for his performance.

However, Hallgrimsson believes the Aston Villa star can be the difference if he's treated well.

"I really can't understand the criticism he's getting. He's one of the highest-profile players in Jamaica, he's coming for every match, doing his job for his country. He's probably one of our most creative players and he's given everything, so support these players, they are trying their best. Support them, show them love so we can do what we need to do for Jamaica," said Hallgrimsson.

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz Head Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson (centre) and his assistants John Wall (left) and Merron Gordon (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

While Bailey will be available, Michail Antonio will not, after picking up an injury in the opening minutes of the first leg. However, the team is expected to be given a boost through the returning Demarai Gray who has an impressive five goals in nine appearances for Jamaica.

Deshane Beckford, who played in the goalless stalemate with Guatemala recently, has been added to the squad, and Assistant Coach Merron Gordon says he can make an impact if the opportunity arises.

"He came in the squad against Guatemala and I think the coaching staff liked what we saw and we just thought to include him in the squad. He brings a different dynamic to the team; he's quick, very nippy, and if he gets a chance he'll do well."

In their 24 meetings Jamaica have won just six times, with their most recent coming in the Concacaf Gold Cup in 2017. The picture looks even bleaker as they've never beaten the Canadians in Canada.

The temperature is expected to be as low as one degree celcius, a major contrast to the heat in Kingston on Saturday, but Coach Hallgrimsson doesn't believe it will be a major issue.

"It's the quality and character of the player; if you have a good character you can play in any weather. But of course, we plan for this. If you saw our game in Kingston, it was a very slow tempo because of the heat and because we needed to stay a long time the day before in the dressing room for like four hours in the stadium, waiting and waiting for a decision. It's about zero degrees in Canada and we know this game will be a high-tempo game, and we are prepared for that. We were quite surprised and happy how fresh the players were this morning so we are in a good moment," he said.

The match is expected to kick off at 7:30 pm Jamaica time.

The Boyz need to overturn the 2-1 deficit if they are to not only qualify for the semi-finals of the Nations League but also automatically qualify for next summer's Copa America.

Daniel Blake

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