Theodore Whitmore will finally be able to see his troops in action, fighting their hearts to try to catch the Jamaica head coach’s eye, when the Reggae Boyz tackle Serbia tomorrow at the Miki Athletic Stadium in Kobe (7 June, 3:00 am Jamaican time).
Jamaica’s planned three-match tour of Japan, behind closed doors, has been beset of problems since the announcement. Whitmore’s original 30-strong squad was stripped down to 22 after 10 players became unavailable, and then half-a-dozen players were denied permission to fly from Amsterdam to Toyko.
But Serbia, who are enjoying a seven-game unbeaten run and recently notched a 2-1 FIFA World Cup qualifying win over Azerbaijan, will prove tough opponents for the Boyz.
Good news for Whitmore is that Dragan Stojkovic, Serbia’s head coach who used to play and coach in Japan, is resting influential striker and skipper Dusan Tadic who seemingly scores for fun in the Netherlands’ top league for AFC Ajax.
Stojkovic has strength in each key area, most notably in defence with Getafe CF’s Nemanja Maksimovic, Sevilla midfielder Nemanja Gudelj and upfront with Fulham hot-shot Aleksandar Mitrovic who has scored five times in the three World Cup qualifiers.
Worryingly Jamaica have registered just two victories in their past 10 matches, and forced to field a much-changed side were totally outclassed 4-1 by the United States in March. Last November the Boyz looked lacklustre when they were torn apart 3-0 by hosts Saudi Arabia, yet battled back in their second friendly with an astonishing 2-1 success to stun the Saudi side.
Jamaica’s whistlestop tour saw the scheduled opener against hosts Japan last Thursday (4 June) cancelled as the Boyz did not have enough players for such a high-profile encounter.
Whitmore did have a 19-strong squad for their inaugural training session yesterday, who on the pitch will be desperately trying to impress as the CONCACAF Gold Cup (10 July-1 August) looms and the squad will be named shortly. Egypt-based Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad) has taken over the captaincy from unavailable no.1 choice and shotstopper Andre Blake.
It looks like another experimental showing from Whitmore with the possibility of debuts for goalkeeper Dillon Barnes (Queens Park Rangers) and Sweden-based winger Blair Turgott (Östersunds FK). The pair were among those who experienced problems at Amsterdam airport. Although the six Europe-based players had undertaken tests using swabs from the dual method of nasal and oral, the airline refused them to board as Japan only accepts PCR nasal tests.
Serbia, FIFA-ranked 20 places higher than world no.45 Jamaica, won 2-1 in 2014 in their only meeting. They are pushing to reach the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, having scored wins over Ireland (3-2) and Azerbaijan (2-1), plus held Portugal to a 2-2 stalemate in Group A. Their next World Cup qualifier is against minnows Luxembourg in September.
Jamaica are also focused on reaching Qatar, so are eagerly attempting to strengthen their squad with more English-based players who ply their trade in the top tier. The final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers kick-off in September, which involves eight nations playing in a round-robin format seeking to claim the trio of automatic berths to the sport’s showpiece tournament.
Following the Serbia clash, Whitmore takes his troops to Nagoya to face Japan’s Olympic U23 team on Saturday (12 June) and their next competitive match will be against Suriname (13 July) in the Gold Cup.
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