Theodore Whitmore, the Jamaica head coach, has learned of his Reggae Boyz’ fate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with Costa Rica the seeded team in their group.
Costa Rica, who lie five places behind FIFA world-ranked no.45 Jamaica, slipped up 1-0 to Mexico in last month’s friendly. Group C’s encounter with Los Ticos will be a terrific yardstick for Whitmore to see whether his troops are a force to be reckoned with ahead of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The Gold Cup tournament kicks off in North America on 10 July, with the final scheduled for 1 August at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
With two sides progressing to the knockout stage, Jamaica should have few fears of negotiating the group with Suriname as their other opponents as well as the winner of the qualifying round from either Bahamas, Guadeloupe, Guatemala or Guyana.
Whitmore has his ‘famous five’ to call on that comprises goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake (45 caps), defenders Kemar Lawrence (60 caps) and Alvas Powell (49 caps), whizzy winger Leon Bailey (eight caps) and striker Damion Lowe (22 caps). But with new faces expected, the coach will be keen to fine-tune his collection of players at the Gold Cup.
Costa Rica’s most influential player is shotstopper Keylor Navas, the no.1 at French champions Paris Saint-Germain following his transfer from Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Defending champions Mexico (no.11), the seeded side in Group A, have been drawn to tackle El Salvador (no.69), emerging nation Curaçao (no.76) and a qualifier from either Cuba, French Guyana, Montserrat or ever improving Trinidad & Tobago (no.103).
The United States (no.20) are the Group B seeds, and have been handed arguably the easier route among the leading teams. They are drawn to face Canada (no.70), minnows Martinique and one nation from either Barbados, Bermuda, Haiti (no.83) or St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Honduras (no.67) head Group D as the seeded team, with the others sides comprising Panama (no.78), Grenada and guest nation Qatar.
Whitmore, who guided the Boyz to the 2017 Gold Cup final and semi-finals of the 2019 Gold Cup, has an excellent chance to win the tournament as many nations will not be fielding their top players.
Mexico and Honduras shall be missing their young talent as the region’s representatives at the Olympic Games in Japan (22 July-7 August), which comprises of Under-23 players in the Football Competition. While United States coach Gregg Berhalter is resting his European-based players, because his priority is the World Cup qualifying competition.
Eight teams go into a knockout qualifying round-robin event with only the top three sides automatically qualifying for Qatar 2022. However, there remains a chance to reach the World Cup finals for the fourth-placed CONCACAF side, who would advance to the inter-confederation play-off against an Asian-based team.
Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and USA have been handed byes to the World Cup round-robin competition, with three teams currently fighting it out through the qualifying rounds.
If the Jamaica Football Federation do strengthen the squad with British-born and based players, as they claim, then Whitmore will undoubtedly have some tired legs as their season will end in May.
At least he has a plethora of players to choose from who ply their trade across the globe, including North America, although to win the tournament would be massive and unexpected bonus. Costa Rica and Curaçao as well as weakened sides from Mexico and the United States are Jamaica’s biggest rivals to claim the prestigious Gold Cup, but it is not beyond the realms of disbelief for the Boyz to finish victorious with their upgraded squad.
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