Jamaica’s planned three-match tour of Japan has been dealt a further spoke in the wheels of being a smooth ride, with 10 players originally selected now unavailable for next month’s friendlies.
Captain Andre Blake, the Reggae Boyz’ first choice shotstopper, is the notable absentee from the 22-strong squad named by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to tackle Japan, Japan’s Olympic U23 side and heavyweights Serbia.
The JFF claim that the original 30-player has been reduced due to a range of reasons that includes club commitments, documentation/visa issues and injuries.
Defensive trio Michael Hector (Fulham, England), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC, Canada) and Ethan Pinnock (Brentford, England) will not make it to the land of the Rising Sun. Three midfielders are also excluded, namely Ravel Morrison (unattached), Alvas Powell (unattached) and Lamar Walker (Miami FC, USA).
The number of strikers has been virtually halved, with Cory Burke (Philadelphia Union, USA), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham, England) and Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi, Belgium) no longer involved.
English-based defender Curtis Tilt (Rotherham United, England) and attacking midfielder Kemal Malcolm (Arnett Gardens, Jamaica) have been called up for the whistlestop tour, which may not even take place because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Japan.
Many metropolitan areas in Japan are currently under a state of emergency, which has been caused by virus variants that worryingly could even affect those who have been vaccinated.
As mid-June has been mooted as the earliest date for the state of emergency to end, these planned friendly matches remain on the brink of being scrapped.
Jamaica are scheduled to tackle Japan (3 June, 5.30am ko Jamaican time) in Sapporo, face Serbia (7 June, 3.30am ko) in Kobe and conclude with a match against the Japan Olympic U23 team (12 June, 11.35pm ko) in Nagoya in preparation for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
A press release from the JFF stated: “The JFF is confident that all players will make themselves available for the upcoming 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers.”
Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore originally named a 30-player squad on 15 May, which contained a third of these players plying their trade in England.
Whitmore is desperate to run his eye over everyone ahead of this year’s regional qualifiers for the World Cup finals, but has the Gold Cup to fine-tune his squad for a shot at making it to the sport’s top tournament for the first time since 1998.
Before Jamaica compete in the eight-team round-robin World Cup qualifying stage, they face the Gold Cup in the United States. This competition offers an excellent chance to build team spirit and for Whitmore to knit his squad together. Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States have all declared that they will field weakened teams, which gives Jamaica a boost of confidence having reached the past three semi-finals.
The top two sides from the Gold Cup round-robin group stages, who would progress to the knockout quarter-finals, appears to be a mere formality for the Boyz who are drawn in the same group as seeded side Costa Rica, Suriname and the winner of a preliminary match.
Yet Whitmore will be more focused as to whether Jamaica can meet hosts Japan at the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido next 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 tricky test against 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. Then 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 been handed some tough tasks in recent times, which included players revolting over their contracts with the JFF and informed that top-class English-born and -bred players would be drafted in.
He arguably has a motley crew for Japan, comprising of a relatively experimental and largely untested squad for these potential friendlies. He has just four strikers at his disposal and only defender Damion Lowe (22 caps) available from his ‘famous five’ usual automatic starters – missing the influential quartet of Blake (45 caps), defenders Kemar Lawrence (60 caps) and Alvas Powell (49 caps) and midfield maestro Leon Bailey (eight caps).
Whitmore will surely need a minor miracle to return from Japan with Jamaica’s reputation intact, but at least he can learn from the tour to be dismissive of which players are not in his long-term plans.
The JFF’s no.1 goal remains to reach the World Cup finals for only the second time in their history, with competing at the cash-rich showpiece of Qatar 2022 surely a make-or-break scenario for Whitmore to continue as head coach of Jamaica.
JAMAICA DELEGATION FOR JAPAN TOUR
Officials | Patrick Malcolm (head of delegation), Theodore Whitmore (head coach), Jerome Waite (assistant coach), Warren Barrett (goalkeeper coach), Lamar Morgan (physical trainer), Roy Simpson (team manager), Dr Lincoln Cox (team doctor), Garone Brown (masseur), Rory Rhoden (masseur), Kevin Christie (physiotherapist), Norman Stone (equipment manager)
Goalkeepers | Dillon Barnes (Queens Park Rangers, England), Dennis Taylor (Humble Lions, Jamaica), Jaedine White (Cavalier, Jamaica)
Defenders | Amari’i Bell (Blackburn Rovers, England), Wes Harding (Birmingham City, England), Luca Levee (Harbour View, Jamaica), Damion Lowe (Al Ittihad, Egypt), Adrian Mariappa (Bristol City, England), Liam Moore (Reading, England), Curtis Tilt (Rotherham United)
Midfielders | Kevaughn Isaacs (Mount Pleasant, Jamaica), Oniel Fisher (LA Galaxy, USA), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Tyreek Magee (KAS Eupen, Belgium), Kemal Malcolm (Arnett Gardens, Jamaica), Kasey Palmer (Bristol City, England), Blair Turgott (Östersunds FK, Sweden), Devon Williams (Miami FC, USA)
Forwards | Jahshaun Anglin (Miami FC, USA), Javon East (Santos de Guápiles, Costa Rica), Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion, USA), Andre Gray (Watford, England)
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