Theodore Whitmore may be forced to abandon next month’s planned whistlestop tour of Japan for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, due to the serious rise in COVID-19 cases in the land of the Rising Sun.
The Jamaica head coach, who named a 30-player squad that contains a third of his players plying their trade in England, has to patiently play a waiting game about whether the trio of tricky friendlies will kick off.
The Boyz are scheduled to tackle Japan (3 June), Serbia (7 June) and the Japan Olympic team (12 June) in preparation for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Originally a mini-tournament was going to take place, but a fourth international team failed to materialise because of the continued coronavirus crisis affecting Japan. And fans from anywhere except Japan are banned from attending the delayed Olympic Games (23 July-8 August) in Tokyo.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Japan, with many metro areas under a state of emergency, has been caused by virus variants that worryingly could even affect those who have been vaccinated. So some of the Reggae Boyz may not wish to travel even if the matches are set to take place.
However, as mid-June has been mooted as the earliest date for the state of emergency to end, these planned friendly matches might be on the brink of being scrapped.
Whitmore would like to have the opportunity to run his eye over his latest squad, especially as the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) appear desperate to qualify for next year’s highly lucrative FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar.
But before Jamaica tackle their regional World Cup qualifiers they have the Gold Cup tournament in the United States, and must fancy their chances of finishing in the top two sides from the round-robin group when they will face Costa Rica, Suriname and the winner of a preliminary match. Progress to the knockout quarter-finals appears to be a mere formality for the Boyz, where Mexico and the United States will field weakened teams.
Yet Whitmore will be more concerned as to whether Jamaica meet hosts Japan at the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido on Thursday 3 June. Hajime Moriyasu’s side are FIFA-world ranked no.25 and showed why they are such a strong side when they destroyed Mongolia 14-0 in March’s World Cup qualifier.
Jamaica could face a difficult showdown with Serbia, who are ranked three places higher than Japan, at the NOEVIR Stadium Kobe in Misaki Park, Hyogo-ku in Kobe on Monday 7 June.
The Japan Olympic U23 team lie in wait to pose Whitmore’s troops problems inside the Paloma Mizuho Stadium in Nagoya on Saturday 12 June, should the whistlestop tour take place.
Whitmore has named a relatively experimental and untested squad to tackle these potential friendlies. With the Gold Cup swiftly followed by the World Cup qualifiers so much more important, then it is highly probable that more top-class players will be drafted in.
JFF president Michael Ricketts touted the names of British-born top-class players on national television, who he claimed wanted to be part of the set-up to join Jamaica’s road to Qatar 2022.
The majority of these named stars have yet to pledge their allegiance to Jamaica, which has left the JFF seemingly chasing shadows and super eager to secure big names to help the Boyz navigate their way to the Middle East.
The planned three-game tour of Japan, which seems unlikely to be given the go-ahead, would provide Whitmore to test out new recruits.
Although he has his ‘famous five’ automatic starters – namely goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake (45 caps), defenders Kemar Lawrence (60 caps) and Alvas Powell (49 caps), midfield maestro Leon Bailey (eight caps) and defender Damion Lowe (22 caps) – on the roster for the World Cup qualifiers, Whitmore surely needs many more reliable players if Jamaica are in with a shot of reaching the World Cup finals for only the second time in their history.
JAMAICA SQUAD FOR JAPAN TOUR
Goalkeepers | Dillon Barnes (Queens Park Rangers, England), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union, USA), Dennis Taylor (Humble Lions, Jamaica), Jaedine White (Cavalier, Jamaica)
Defenders | Amari’i Bell (Blackburn Rovers, England), Wes Harding (Birmingham City, England), Michael Hector (Fulham, England), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC, Canada), Luca Levee (Harbour View, Jamaica), Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad, Egypt), Adrian Mariappa (Bristol City, England), Liam Moore (Reading, England), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford, England)
Midfielders | Kevaughn Isaacs (Mount Pleasant, Jamaica), Oniel Fisher (LA Galaxy, USA), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Tyreek Magee (KAS Eupen, Belgium), Ravel Morrison (unattached), Kasey Palmer (Bristol City, England), Alvas Powell (unattached), Blair Turgott (Östersunds FK, Sweden), Lamar Walker (Miami FC, USA), Devon Williams (Miami FC, USA)
Forwards | Jahshaun Anglin (Miami FC, USA), Cory Burke (Philadelphia Union, USA), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham, England), Javon East (Santos de Guápiles, Costa Rica), Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion, USA), Andre Gray (Watford, England), Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi, Belgium)
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