Jamaica’s whistlestop tour to Saudi Arabia, to tackle the hosts tomorrow (14 November) and on Tuesday, has experienced more tribulations with two members of the Reggae Boyz’ delegation having tested positive for COVID-19.
The Boyz, who left Humble Lions FC’s shotstopper Dennis Taylor’s in quarantine in London last weekend following a positive test result, have four of their contingent in self isolation.
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) released a statement that read: “Two members of Jamaica’s football delegation, who are currently in Saudi Arabia , have tested positive for COVID-19 after PCR tests (polymerase chain reaction) were administered on Thursday [12 November].
“The new cases include one player and a member of the technical staff. Two other players are also under investigation. All four, who had been in quarantine for 48 hours with the full group, have now been isolated.”
The JFF further indicated that a number of protocols have been set by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation as a result of these positive coronavirus tests.
Theodore Whitmore has seen the goal posts constantly moved since it was announced that Jamaica would tackle Saudi Arabia in back-to-back friendlies, the matches designed to obtain playing practice as well potentially increase their FIFA world ranking from no.48.
The Jamaica head coach will have to rejig his plans for tomorrow’s contest (11.30am ko Jamaican time), although he should be better equipped for the second game on Tuesday at the same venue of the imposing Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in Riyadh.
Since Whitmore named his attack-minded 24-strong squad for these friendlies, he has been gradually losing first choice squad members. His initial loss of a trio of players seemed to jolt Whitmore’s plans, but now potentially three others sidelined makes it more of an obstacle.
Veteran centre back Adrian Mariappa opted to stay in England to sort out his club career and signed for ambitious Championship outfit Bristol City on 11 November.
US-based defender Alvas Powell was not permitted to join the Boyz because a team-mate at his MLS club of Inter Miami FC tested positive for COVID-19, which meant that the 26-year-old was deemed a health risk for the trek.
And Taylor, who had been in self isolation with four other island-based players at the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence in Kingston prior to the trip, only received his positive result en route to Asia.
Forward Chavany Willis, on loan from Portmore United at Pennsylvania-based Philadelphia Union II in the USL Championship, replaced Mariappa with Kingston-born duo of midfielder Tyreek Magee (Eupen, Belgium) and shotstopper Cavalier FC’s Jeadine White the alternatives for Powell and Taylor respectively.
If the nightmare of missing players wasn’t enough for Whitmore, there were claims in an article from the Sunday Gleaner newspaper last weekend that the JFF had averted a potential strike by Boyz in a dispute over money.
The article stated that the Boyz had threatened not to play in these games unless the JFF agreed to the compensation package of US$2,000 each that the squad members were demanding. It is understood that the JFF originally offered only half of that sum, but backtracked to agree to meet the pay demands.
Money is virtually no issue in the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where its strict COVID-19 protocols have been enforced among their population of 35 million. There has been over 350,000 reported cases of coronavirus, with a recovery rate of 96.2 per cent.
With such stringent regulations in place in Saudi Arabia severely limits Whitmore’s plans for the opening encounter, and with potentially three more absentees.
Whitmore was waiting for half-a-dozen key players as late arrivals by yesterday – Leon Bailey (Bayern Leverkusen, Germany), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham, England), Javon East (Santos, Costa Rica), Oniel Fisher (DC United, USA), Michael Hector (Fulham, England) and White – who must return negative COVID-19 results before they are permitted to join in with any training sessions.
Saudi Arabia, who have yet to play competitively this year, breezed past the Boyz with a comfortable 5-2 home success when they last time they met three years ago.
The hosts rely on a solid passing game with skilful players throughout their squad. Their possession tactics and neat passing often frustrates opponents, and has served them well in more recent times.
For the Boyz these matches will mark their first action since a very different line-up, comprising only island-based players, eased past Bermuda 2-0 at Montego Bay in March. The sweltering heat of Riyadh, which is likely to be warmer than Kingston but certainly a lot less humid, will be a big ask for the visitors – especially as many are not used to playing together.
This visit to Asia must be getting increasingly frustrating for Whitmore, who will be keen to prove that he is a master tactician with his tactics and tepid displays over the past couple of years having been heavily criticised by former players and the media.
The Boyz, who tend to be a physical team, like to keep the ball at their feet but can suddenly use their athleticism and pace to attack opponents. Whether they can outmuscle world no.67 Saudi Arabia on their home turf remains to be seen, and Whitmore will be hoping for no further woes before giving the opening encounter his best shot.
Jamaica squad: Jahshaun Anglin (Harbour View FC), Leon Bailey (Bayern Leverkusen, Germany), Norman Campbell (RFK Grafičar Beograd, Serbia), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham, England), Javon East (Santos, Costa Rica), Oniel Fisher (DC United, USA), Junior Flemmings (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Michael Hector (Fulham, England), Daniel Johnson (Preston North End, England), Amal Knight (San Diego Loyal, USA), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Kemar Lawrence (Anderlecht, Belgium), Gregory Leigh (Aberdeen, Scotland), Damion Lowe (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Tyreek Magee (Eupen, Belgium), Kemal Malcolm (Arnett Gardens FC), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska, Sweden), Ricardo Morris (Vaasan Palloseura, Finland), Ravel Morrison (ADO Den Haag, Holland), Shamar Nicholson (R. Charleroi SC, Belgium), Kaheem Parris (NK Krka, Slovenia), Lamar Walker (Portmore United), Jeadine White (Cavalier FC), Chavany Willis (Philadelphia Union II).
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