Michail Antonio, the in-form West Ham star whose Jamaican debut last month was largely unforgettable, is one of nine strikers included in the Reggae Boyz squad to tackle the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
The 31-year-old is in the 24-strong squad named by head coach Theodore Whitmore, with fellow English-based forward Andre Gray restored after the Watford hot-shot was a notable absentee for last month’s trio of matches.
With 35 players named last time by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the latest line-up has been trimmed for the trip to the United States (7 October), the visit of ever improving Canada (10 October) and the tricky game in Honduras (13 October).
The trio of shotstoppers – skipper Andre Blake, Dillon Barnes and Dennis Taylor – remains the same, which comes as no great surprise.
British-based defensive duo Amari’i Bell (Luton) and Wes Harding (Rotherham) are axed along with island-based 19-year-old Richard King, Cavaliers FC’s hard tackling central defender.
A trio of British midfielders are omitted for various reasons. Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey is nursing a thigh injury, Derby County’s Ravel Morrison has issues entering the US because of his UK criminal record and Blackpool’s Kevin Stewart has been dropped.
Another three midfielders have been chopped from Whitmore’s squad, namely Portmore United’s Ricardo Morris, Miami FC’s Lamar Walker yet more surprisingly Swedish-based flair player Blair Turgott.
This leaves just four recognised midfielders available with the England-based pair of Anthony Grant (Swindon Town) and Daniel Johnson (Preston North End) joining Tyreek Magee (Eupen, Belgium) and Devon Williams (Miami FC, USA).
Whitmore’s squad is packed with firepower as the Boyz looked desperately short of idea upfront when they fell to Mexico and Panama before snatching a draw in Costa Rica.
Yet the quartet of stalwarts Cory Burke (Phildephia Union, USA), Norman Campbell (FK Čukarički, Serbia), Peter Lee Vassell (Indy Eleven, USA) and Romario Williams (Qadsia Sporting Club, Kuwait) are eliminated from Whitmore’s plans to bag precious points.
Antonio, the joint top scorer in the English Premier League with five goals, will get another shot in a golden jersey. He was hauled off after 70 minutes for being ineffective in his much-hyped debut against Panama in Kingston last month.
The Boyz, whose sole appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals was at the France ’98 competition, definitely have their work cut out with only one point gleaned from three matches.
They visit Austin in Texas to take on their mighty foes of the United States, which is followed by the visit of Canada inside Kingston’s National Stadium before the trip to Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
If they can turn around their fortunes and score a rare victory then they should no longer be propping up the eight-team table, where the top three nations will progress to next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar. However, the side that finishes fourth will be given a lifelife to reach the highly lucrative finals because they will involved in an intercontinental play-off to qualify.
Whitmore, such an influential figure in the heart of midfield for the Boyz during his playing days, must know he is under immense pressure to transform Jamaica’s fortunes in these World Cup qualifiers.
At least with a settled squad selected for a change, something of a scarcity over the past few years, there seems a high chance that the Boyz could obtain some positive results – especially as this squad is jam-packed with star strikers.
Should his forwards fail again then it will be deemed that Whitmore got it completely wrong, and his transparent tactics have been constantly called into question by a plethora of former players during these qualifiers.
But would the JFF be courageous enough to give him the boot if the next three results go against the Boy? With eight qualifiers then remaining it would require the JFF to think long and hard as to whether a new head coach could rescue their bid to reach Qatar campaign or should they stick with Whitmore.
Goalkeepers | Andre Blake (Phildephia Union, USA), Dillon Barnes (QPR, England), Dennis Taylor (Humble Lions FC)
Defenders | Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada), Oneil Fisher (LA Galaxy), Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad, Egypt), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC, Canada), Liam Moore (Reading, England), Adrian Mariappa (unattached), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford, England), Alvas Powell (Phildephia Union, USA)
Midfielders | Anthony Grant (Swindon Town, England), Daniel Johnson (Preston North End, England), Tyreek Magee (Eupen, Belgium), Devon Williams (Miami FC, USA)
Forwards | Michail Antonio (West Ham United, England), Bobby Decordaova-Reid (Fulham, England), Javon East (Santos de Guápiles FC, Costa Rica), Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion, USA), Andre Gray (Watford, England), Jamal Lowe (AFC Bournemouth, Wales), Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi, Belgium), Kemar Roofe (Rangers, Scotland), Je-Vaughn Watson (Humble Lions FC)
Jamaica’s FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers
2 September | 2-1 defeat to Mexico (a)
5 September | 3-0 defeat to Panama (h)
8 September | 1-1 draw with Costa Rica (a)
7 October | USA (a)
10 October | Canada (h)
13 October | Honduras (a)
12 November | El Salvador (a)
16 November | USA (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)
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