Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz could be back training as early as next month in preparation for their FIFA World Cup qualifiers, in their ambition to reach only their second finals of football’s biggest tournament.
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) want to be ready to kick-off their campaign to reach Qatar 2022 despite no schecdule nor qualifying format announced by CONCACAF, and are aware of the lucrative rewards if the Boyz are one of the 32 teams competing in the Middle East.
JFF president Michael Ricketts has pencilled in a meeting with head coach Theodore Whitmore, manager Roy Simpson and the chairman of the technical committee Rudolph Speid for Thursday (23 July).
FIFA made a decision to remove games originally scheduled for September from the international match calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic. Based on FIFA’s original decision for no international games to be played until January 2021, Whitmore has a golden opportunity to rule his eye over locally-based players, and since his return as head coach he’s done a terrific job in polishing some of their skills.
The JFF’s objective is to try to keep this contingent of players together for the remainder of the year, so that they can gel as squad before the overseas contingent from Europe and those plying their trade in North America’s MLS are brought in to strength the Boyz.
Because of financial constraints by the JFF, Whitmore has been blooding players from across the island rather than relying on those plying their trade overseas. Despite having his hands tied, his squad choices have resulted in current and former players constantly on his back through cutting comments across various media channels.
One of those to be outspoken earlier this year is recently recruited midfield maestro Leon Bailey, seen by many as Jamaica’s saviour despite indifferent form over the past 18 months. His involvement has been limited but the Boyz are buoyant overall about reaching the World Cup finals.
With CONCACAF yet to determine their 2022 Qatar qualifying format there is concern that there could be three groups of four, much like the former semi-final round. That would result in only the group winners qualifying for the tournament. As Jamaica are ranked fourth in the region they would have to overcome either Costa Rica, Mexico or the United States should this format be utilised.
The Reggae Boyz provisionally reached CONCACAF’s six-nation Hexagonal Qualifying for the World Cup finals, with the final berths determined by FIFA rankings last month. However, the regional matches scheduled for March and June were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic, so it is unclear about the six places and indeed the format to played.
As it stands the CONCACAF’s top 10 ranked sides are Mexico (FIFA no.11), USA (no.22), Costa Rica (no.46), Jamaica (no.48), Honduras (no.62), El Salvador (no.69), Canada (no.73), Curaçao (no.80), Panama (no.81) and Haiti (no.86).
Mexico tend to overcome Jamaica in competitive games, the United States have a slight edge over Jamaica but are no longer the force they were. Costa Rica are a side on the rise, having been in the doldrums for a number of years, and are seen as the biggest rivals to snatching the third automatic place to reach Qatar 2022. Honduras have caused Jamaica headaches over the years so should not be underestimated. Leaving either Canada or El Salvador, both realistically beatable by the Boyz, joining the Qualifiers.
The original Hexagonal Qualifiers, with three CONCACAF sides directly qualifying for Qatar 2022, were lined up with all teams to kick-off the campaign by playing two games each between September and November.
FIFA, acknowledging fixture congestion caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have also pushed back their 32-nation 2022 World Cup draw by two months to June 2022.
CONCACAF issued a statement about FIFA’s revised schedule: “The challenges presented by postponements to the football calendar, and the incomplete FIFA rankings cycle in our confederation, means our current World Cup Qualifying process has been compromised and will be changed.
“We will now work with the new framework provided and liaise with FIFA to finalise a new World Cup Qualification format for the CONCACAF region.”
Whitmore, who returned to his role as head coach in September 2016, has an impressive record at the helm with just three defeats in 13 games. However, the former Caribbean Player of the Year has been heavily criticised for his side’s uninspiring displays that’s left fans failing to get enthusiastic.
His four-year contract with the Jamaica Football Federation, which expires in May 2022, could leave the former defender missing out on being in charge of the Boyz at football’s largest tournament because the next World Cup finals takes place in November and December 2022.
Whitmore experienced Jamaica’s only involvement at the FIFA World Cup finals, as a key figure during the France 1998 competition. He made history by scoring a brace to help guide the Boyz to their one and only victory in the competition during their a 2-1 shock success over Japan.
But he hasn’t been particularly tested as a coach since his return, and these forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers seem set to make or break his coaching career with the Boyz. It’s not uncommon for teams to alter coaches just before the FIFA World Cup finals, bringing in high-profile and experienced figures on a short-term basis because of the lucrative financial rewards, and no doubt the JFF will not be scared to make changes if the knives stay out for Whitmore from fans, former players and the media.
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