Michail Antonio, the powerful West Ham United striker who is only missing his international debut for the Reggae Boyz due to delays in obtaining his Jamaican passport, was involved in a pre-season injury scare on Tuesday (13 July).
Yet the London-born 31-year-old, unable to compete at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States with the Boyz, was in action during the scoreless draw at London rivals Leyton Orient.
But the injury-prone forward required lengthy treatment after just five minutes at Brisbane Road, and failed to score against the EFL League Two outfit.
Antonio bounced back from the injury scare by almost setting up an early goal. He slid the ball into the path of Irish winger Armstrong Oko-Flex, whose low effort was easily scooped up by goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux.
Desperately seeking to get on the scoresheet, Antonio twice fluffed excellent last-gasp opportunities. Second-half shotstopper Sam Sargeant made a spectacular reflex save and a few minutes later was equal to the burly forward’s close-range header.
Antonio, who has been selected for England under two different head coaches but never featured, pledged his allegiance to Jamaica in March and was named in their initial 60-player Gold Cup squad.
After Theodore Whitmore’s troops were unconvincing in their opening group game in the regional showpiece tournament, despite a stuttering 2-0 success over Suriname, it looked as though Antonio would be an asset for Jamaica’s forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers. However, on the 90 minutes that he delivered against fourth-tier Leyton Orient then his absence will now not be felt.
Antonio is being forced to play the waiting game on finalising his official documents to represent the Boyz, with the World Cup qualifying for Qatar 2022 set to kick-off in September.
Head coach Whitmore, whose last two shots at Gold Cup glory ended as 2017 runner-up and 2019 semi-finalists, will have few qualms about facing Guadeloupe on Friday after the minnows were outplayed 3-1 against Costa Rica.
Four days later Jamaica tackle Costa Rica, who are missing a plethora of key players as they are competing at the Olympic Games in Toyko, with the match due to determine who tops the group before the quarter-final knockout stage.
Although the Boyz made a positive start against Suriname, the match became a test of physical endurance with Jamaica surprisingly outmuscled for much of the second half. New tactics need to be implemented for the rest of the competition. Leon Bailey will be particularly eager to impress as he failed to ignite the fireworks in Jamaica’s opener against Suriname.
And with Antonio also out-of-sorts this week, Whitmore will not be too disappointed with the squad at his disposal as Jamaica have a serious shot at lifting the Gold Cup for the first time in their history.
Whether Antonio and Bailey will play a major role in the all-important regional World Cup qualifiers this September remains to be seen, as there seems to be plenty of players ready to show their silky skills in a golden jersey.
The Boyz’ Gold Cup group stage games are being contested in Orlando and Texas. The top two nations from the four-team group round-robin encounters will advance to the knockout stage of the quarter-finals, with the final to be hosted at the newly-built Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on 1 August.
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