Michail Antonio and Leon Bailey, shining stars in the English Premier League, will be urged by head coach Theodore Whitmore to find their international scoring boots when Jamaica tackle back-to-back CONCACAF 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The duo, who have managed goals in the top flight this term, face out-of-form El Salvador (12 November) and the United States (16 November).
Whitmore must be a relieved man in welcoming back both West Ham hot-shot striker Antonio and Aston Villa’s attacking midfielder Bailey. Antonio missed the trio of October matches due to a stand-off with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), while Bailey was absent because of a thigh injury.
And Whitmore is understandably under pressure to bag maximum points in El Salvador. His Reggae Boyz desperately need to move up the eight-team table in the chase for one of three automatic places for next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar, otherwise the JFF will be asking serious questions.
No doubt Whitmore will have gleaned vital information about El Salvador, who lacked any fireworks in their creditable 1-0 friendly reversal to South American wizards Bolivia in Washington DC on November 5.
The El Salvadorians never looked liked scoring, and suffered their fifth defeat in six matches that leaves them with just a single success in 11 games and their confidence at a low ebb.
Whitmore was dealt a blow with two English Championship-based players, goalkeeper Dillon Barnes and striker Andre Gray, ruled out because of injury. The duo both play for QPR, with Gray currently on loan with the London club from EPL outfit Watford.
The replacements in the 24-strong roster are shotstopper Dwayne Miller, plies his trade for Syrianska FC in Sweden, and Vancouver Whitecaps’ right back Javain Brown respectively.
Jamaica’s game in El Salvador will be their fifth match on their travels, which marks the halfway stage of this World Cup campaign with seven more contests to follow.
It is vital that Whitmore’s troops show more fight than recent encounter, as the Boyz have only picked up one victory, which was last month’s success over hosts Honduras.
With the US and Mexico their next two clashes, should the Boyz bottle it in El Salvador then not only will there be changes to their playing personnel but Whitmore will surely be clinging to his job.
However, the Boyz are expected to romp to victory to claim three points and ramp up the cauldron of the National Stadium in the capital of Kingston, when up to 5,000 spectators will witness the United States as opponents.
Jamaica supporters will be given their first chance to see Antonio up close, as the JFF are permitting a limited number of vaccinated fans into the ground for this crucial clash.
The powerful English-born striker only lasted 70 minutes on his Jamaica debut in September, hauled off by Whitmore during their dismal 3-0 home defeat to Panama when there were vocal squabbles between team-mates on the pitch.
Antonio is one of seven forwards named in the 24-player squad that includes fellow British-based stars Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham) and Kemar Roofe (Rangers).
If, as expected, the Boyz return from Central America with a confidence-boosting win before the US match then Whitmore will no longer be feeling the heat from the JFF.
Yet failure in El Salvador and then on home soil would surely spell the end of his era at the helm.
But the Reggae Boyz should find their rhythm this time, as none of the usual hiccups have occurred. Even four points from a possible six would be music to the ears of their fans, and certainly for the JFF.
Goalkeepers | Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska FC), Jeadine White (Cavalier SC)
Defenders | Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps), Liam Moore (Reading), Adrian Mariappa (Unattached), Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC), Oniel Fisher (LA Galaxy), Gregory Leigh (Morecambe), Alvas Powell (Philadelphia Union)
Midfielders | Leon Bailey (Aston Villa), Anthony Grant (Swindon Town), Ravel Morrison (Derby County), Lamar Walker (Miami FC), Je-Vaughn Watson (Humble Lions), Devon Williams (Miami FC)
Strikers | Michail Antonio (West Ham United), Cory Burke (Philadelphia Union), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham), Javon East (Santos de Gualipes), Junior Flemmings (Birmingham Legion), Shamar Nicholson (RSC Charleroi), Kemar Roofe (Rangers FC)
CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers table (after six matches) | Mexico 14pts, USA 8pts, Canada 10pts, Panama 8pts, Costa Rica 6pts, Jamaica 5pts, El Salvador 5pts, Honduras 3pts.
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 | 2-0 defeat to USA (a)
10 October | 0-0 draw with Canada (h)
13 October | 2-0 win over 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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