Theodore Whitmore, who has a pool of 60 players to represent Jamaica, will be frantically working out the logistics of halving that number as he prepares for the region’s demanding three-game windows for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Canada, El Salvador and Panama battled their way through two sets of qualifiers to join the heavyweights of Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and in-form United States seeking to make it through to next year’s prestigious showpiece tournament in Qatar. Only three teams from the round-robin format of eight nations are guaranteed a place at the World Cup finals.
But the matches will be coming thick and fast, kicking off in early September with three matches in six days. Jamaica are scheduled to travel to Mexico for a mouthwatering showdown, just two days later Panama visit Kingston’s National Stadium and then after 72 hours the Reggae Boyz face hosts Costa Rica.
Such a hectic schedule will require better organisation than Jamaica experienced on this month’s whistlestop tour to Japan. Yet the Boyz surprisingly bossed Serbia in a dull 1-1 stalemate in the Far East, although other teams in the region have tended to stifle Serbia. But Jamaica’s rejigged starting line-up, just a few days later, were bludgeoned 4-0 by the speed and finishing skills of Japan’s Olympic side.
Head coach Whitmore will have learned the flaws and strengths of those who made it on that tour to Japan, and surely will axe many of those players from his squad for next month’s esteemed CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Having reached the past three semi-finals at the competition, the Boyz have a good shot at making it to their third Gold Cup final in four appearances as Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States have claimed that they intend to be fielding weakened teams.
Whether Whitmore will follow the lead of other nations at the Gold Cup, in order to rest his key players for the World Cup qualifiers, remains to be seen.
He arguably had a motley crew in Japan, comprising of a relatively experimental and largely untested squad with limited firepower at his disposal. On top of bringing back the exciting newcomer Jamal Lowe, who scored in his only international back in March, the Boyz are still targeting a trio of English-based strikers – Michail Antionio (West Ham United), Nathan Redmond (Southampton) and Ivan Toney (Brentford) are firmly in their sights.
Whitmore has his ‘famous five’ automatic starters that he can rest for the Gold Cup but would need for the World Cup. This influential quintet of goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake, defenders Kemar Lawrence, Damion Lowe and Alvas Powell plus whizzy winger Leon Bailey are the players that Whitmore should be shaping his teams around.
Neither Costa Rica nor Mexico are the force they used to be. Canada, Honduras and the United States are confident sides who have been achieving exceptional results for some time. While El Salvador and Panama have impressed since installing new coaches.
Yet Whitmore is a tactical genius, having masterminded some incredible results against the odds. If he can have the troops he desires for the World Cup qualifiers then the Boyz have a fighting chance to return to the stage they last graced at France 1998 when Whitmore finished as a hero by bagging a brace against Japan for a shock 2-1 success.
Guide to Jamaica’s opponents
Mexico (world no.11) | Gerardo Martino’s ‘El Tri’ past two matches have seen them stutter ahead of competing in the Olympic Games and the Gold Cup. Following their extra time 3-2 reversal to the United States in the recent CONCACAF Nations League final, when skipper Andrés Guardado missed a penalty right at the death, they were surprisingly held to a scoreless draw by Honduras in a dreary friendly in Atlanta, USA. Head coach Martino has two more friendlies lined up in the United States to prepare the squad for the Gold Cup, with matches against Panama (30 June) and Nigeria (3 July), then he can fine-tune for the all-important World Cup qualifiers that Mexico are expected to waltz through.
United States (world no.20) | Gregg Berhalter has been successively plugging away with widening the talent gap of his squad and the rest of the region, which showed with their 4-0 thrashing of Costa Rica a few days after stunning Mexico to capture the Nations League in epic style. The coach is happy to utilise his B squad at the Gold Cup with his priority to reach Qatar 2022. And the United States hope that they have added to their armoury with a new away kit that features a mazy pattern of red and blue, which presumably is designed to make opponents feel dizzy. The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia as they were stunned by Trinidad & Tobago in the final match of their qualifying campaign.
Costa Rica (world no.50) | Ronald González sorely missed Paris St.Germain’s shotstopper Keylor Navas at this month’s Nations League, as the ‘Ticos’ fell to Mexico and then slumped to defeat against Honduras to finish fourth. He played an experimental side that were swept aside by the United States in an exhibition match to add salt to the wounds of coach González, who may now consider a U-turn for fielding an understrength squad at the Gold Cup. Costa Rica have struggled to score goals, resulting in rare victories, for some time with their obvious strength being a solid defence when Navas is between the sticks.
Honduras (world no.67) | Fabian Coito has been chipping away at making ‘La Bicolor’ a force to be reckoned with, and in recent weeks has staged upsets against esteemed opponents. Honduras made the United States look ordinary in their Nations League semi-final clash, but fell 1-0 to a dramatic late goal against the run of play. They dominated for a second match on the bounce and, following their 2-2 stalemate against Costa Rica, secured third place courtesy of a 5-4 success on penalties. Head coach Coito will face minnows Grenada in next month’s Gold Cup, aiming to build up their confidence in the tournament before tackling the World Cup qualifiers.
El Salvador (world no.69) | Hugo Pérez’s side stormed into the final round of World Cup qualifiers with an emphatic 6-0 aggregate triumph over the ‘Sugar Boyz’ of St. Kitts & Nevis. Head coach Pérez, who played in the 1994 World Cup finals for the United States, was installed as head coach in April and has turned around their fortunes that look nothing like the team humiliated 6-0 at the hands of an inexperienced United States outfit last December. His opening World Cup qualifier is against the US, with the aim for El Salvador to make their first World Cup finals appearance since the South Africa 2010.
Canada (world no.70) | John Herdman is chasing a return to the World Cup finals for Canada since the France 1998. The coach, who hails from the North of England, witnessed arguably one of the all-time great own goals. Having edged the Haitians 1-0 in the opening leg, the second match saw Canada run riot to score a 3-0 success that included Josue Duverger’s pitiful mistake. Failing to control the ball as it edged closer to the gaping goalmouth, the Montreal-born shotstopper’s miskick resulted in total humiliation as he conceded. Herdman has posted impressive results, just four defeats in 23 matches, since being appointed in 2018.
Panama (world no.78) | Thomas Christiansen oversaw a scoreless draw against Serbia in January, and he has registered five wins and a 0-0 stalemate since. The 2018 World Cup participants, who were hammered 6-1 by England at the tournament, delivered the knockout blow to the much-fancied Dutch Antilles’ team Curaçao to progress to the final qualifiers at their expense. Following a 2-1 home success over Curaçao, they held out for a second leg draw in Willemstad where the hosts were denied by the woodwork towards the end. Head coach Christiansen has tasted just two defeats in 10 games at the helm, since being a surprise appointment last July following a restructure of the Panamanian Football Federation.
Jamaica’s path to Qatar | 3rd Round World Cup Qualifiers
3 September | Mexico (a)
5 September | Panama (h)
8 September | Costa Rica (a)
7 October | United States (a)
10 October | Canada (h)
13 October | Honduras (a)
TBC November | El Salvador (a)
TBC November | United States (h)
27 January | Mexico (h)
30 January | Panama (a)
2 February | Costa Rica (h)
24 March | El Salvador (h)
27 March | Canada (a)
30 March | Honduras (h)
2nd Round World Cup Qualifiers
16 June | Canada 3 Haiti 0 (4-0 on aggregrate), Curaçao 0 Panama 0 (1-2 on aggregrate), El Salvador 2 St. Kitts & Nevis 0 (6-0 on aggregrate)
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