Paul Hall, who recently replaced axed Theodore Whitmore as head coach of Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, has been thrown into the cauldron.
He will start his trio of matches in January with a hastily-arranged friendly in Peru on Friday, where not only has he been forced to select a pretty weak squad but two players failed to board the plane as they tested positive for COVID-19.
The pair were revealed to be shotstopper Dwayne Miller, who plays in Sweden, and Canada-based left winger Alex Marshall. Now the Boyz only have one back-up goalkeeper. To add to Hall’s woes an official also tested positive so did not make the trip to Lima.
Although stalwarts such as the defensive duo of Kemar Lawrence and Damion Lowe, 38-year-old midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson as well as hot-shot striker Cory Burke are included, there are seven new faces among the 20-strong squad.
Hall has given six island-based players a chance to impress, having seen them train at the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence in Kingston. Those who could win their first international cap comprises Cavalier’s defender Richard King, midfielder Ramione Howell, teenage forwards Dwayne Atkinson and Devonte Campbell plus fellow strikers Deshane Beckford and Oquassa Chong.
US-based defender Maliek Howell could also make his international debut, called in as a last-gasp replacement for frontman Kaheem Parris who plies his trade in Slovenia but was unavailable.
As the encounter is not within a FIFA window then the usual array of stars from Europe could not be selected for Hall’s first-ever squad. Having moved from assistant coach to the big job of guiding the Boyz to the FIFA World Cup finals is a mammoth task, and a real leap of faith by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF).
Whitmore was drifting with negative tactics, seemingly content to not lose matches rather than win them, which in the end proved to be his downfall.
The JFF were never going to splash the cash for a coach facing such an uphill battle and potentially mission impossible of qualifying for Qatar 2022. Instead they have opted for damage limitation and are relying on Hall to improve morale, tactics and results.
At least by testing out new legs against Peru, which will be played in front of a maximum 30% of the full 40,000 capacity at the Estadio Nacional del Perú in Lima, offers Hall the opportunity to oversee any potential future stars.
The Boyz will be back to full strength for their do or die scenario of tackling three World Cup matches. Unless points are picked up, then their dreams will be dashed of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1998.
Hall has a trio of games – Mexico (h) 27 January, Panama (a) 30 January and Costa Rica (h) 2 February – to grab crucial points. However, victories in all of these is really required.
His 23-strong squad, selected after the Peru friendly for the World Cup qualifiers, are due to assemble in Jamaica on 24 January with England-based in-form striker Michail Antonio seen as a potential saviour.
Whitmore briefly had the West Ham United star to spearhead his attack. However, Antonio’s much-hyped debut fell flat and he was hauled off after 70 minutes with his team-mates verbally fighting throughout September’s humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Panama.
Unfortunately Whitmore could not garner vital World Cup qualification points, and after eight matches into the campaign the Boyz appear doomed to miss out competing in football’s pinnacle.
Hall has been put in temporary charge of Jamaica in order to steady the ship and stop the Boyz sinking any further. Six qualifiers remain, although realistically maximum points from five games are required if they are to propel themselves into the top three automatic qualifying places in the eight-team table.
Languishing on seven points, which is half of the number that third- and fourth-placed nations Mexico and Panama have respectively, leaves Hall staring at almost certain elimination unless he can coax his squad to perform a miracle.
Yet Jamaica do get to tackle El Salvador and Honduras, the two teams who sit below them in the World Cup qualifying table, when triumphs for the Boyz are expected.
His first task is to get the best out of the experimental squad in Peru, who held visiting Panama to a 1-1 stalemate on Monday. The South Americans are no slouches, having won their World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela and Bolivia in November after narrowing suffering a 1-0 reversal to mighty Argentina.
Jamaica are on an unbeaten run of four games, conceding just twice, but that was partly due to defensive tactics from Whitmore. Hall will no doubt be trying to stamp his own authority on the squad, but a hefty defeat in Peru and losing at home to Mexico will surely have the JFF wondering whether they made a mistake in giving Whitmore the boot.
Amal Knight (Arnett Gardens), Jeadine White (Cavalier, Jamaica)
Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Canada), Richard King (Cavalier, Jamaica), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC, Canada), Damion Lowe (Inter Miami CF, USA), Maliek Howell (University of Memphis, USA), Jamoi Topey (Cavalier, Jamaica)
Ramone Howell (Waterhouse, Jamaica), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Tevin Shaw (Atlético Ottawa, Canada), Peter-Lee Vassell (Hartford Athletic, USA), Lamar Walker (Inter Miami CF, USA), Je-Vaughn Watson (Humble Lions FC, Jamaica), Devon Williams (Inter Miami CF, USA)
Dwayne Atkinson (Cavalier, Jamaica), Deshane Beckford (Montego Bay United, Jamaica), Cory Burke (Philadelphia Union, USA), Devonte Campbell (Mount Pleasant, Jamaica), Oquassa Chong (Harbour View, Jamaica), Jourdain Fletcher (Mount Pleasant, Jamaica)
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table (after 8 games)
Canada 16pts (+8 goal difference), USA 15pts (+7), Mexico 14pts (+4), Panama 14pts (+2), Costa Rica 9pts (-1), Jamaica 7pts (-4), El Salvador 6pts (-6), Honduras 3pts (-10)
Jamaica’s remaining matches
Mexico (h) 27 January, Panama (a) 30 January, Costa Rica (h) 2 February, El Salvador (h) 24 March, Canada (a) 27 March, Honduras (h) 30 March
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