Antonio Among British Based Players Left On Sidelines As Reggae Boyz End World Cup Campaign

Author: Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rüdd

Interim head coach Paul Hall shakes things up in bid to win role permanently by including 11 islanders and omitting out-of-form West Ham striker

Michail Antonio, who has not scored at club level since slotting home the opener in the New Year’s Day win at Crystal Palace, is a notable absentee from the latest Jamaica squad. The out-of-sorts West Ham United forward, who has scored three times in six international appearances, has been omitted from Paul Hall’s 24-strong squad that welcomes back Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey.

Antonio’s form has dramatically dipped ever since he made his debut for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz last September. Missing what would be an exhausting whistlestop 15,000 mile round-trip to tackle El Salvador, Canada and Honduras should at least please West Ham head coach David Moyes who is admittedly over-reliant on the veteran hot-shot.

While one English Premier League (EPL) star sits out the trio of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, the recall from a long-term thigh injury of Bailey will be a welcome boast for interim head coach Hall. Bailey is currently finding the EPL hard-going but is determined to bounce back with aplomb.

  

England-based Hall, who has lost his opening four games at the helm by employing pretty similar defensive tactics to the axed head coach Theodore Whitmore, has controversially shaken up his squad.

Hall, who is employed as the U23 head coach at Championship outfit QPR, will use these three contests to try to prove to the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) that he is a real contender for the role on a permanent basis.

His choice of players could let him down, and it would not be a surprise if his original selection was trimmed by the JFF as a cost-cutting exercise.

The Jamaica fans are not exactly ecstatic about these forthcoming matches being promoted with so much enthusiasm by the JFF. They are bombarding social media platforms with negative comments, and that was before the latest squad was announced today (21 March).

Hall was thrown into the cauldron by the JFF, effectively as the cheapest available option, before the CONCACAF Nations League kicks off in May. So far his record is pretty poor, but with the JFF insisting that island-based players were introduced for the last World Cup qualifiers it originally seemed that Hall has decided he does need some of his overseas stalwarts.

With 14 players based in Europe and the United States initially making themselves available for selection, Antonio was not included, it was expected that Hall would take all of these. The plan was to boost the squad with a combination of senior and U20 players.

Controversially, four British-based stars were snubbed. There was no room for Brentford defender Ethan Pinnock, Blackpool midfielder Kevin Stewart, AFC Bournemouth attacker Jamal Lowe and Rangers forward Kemar Roofe. Lowe, a former England C international, and Scotland-based Roofe both missed out on January’s qualifiers as they had each just returned from injury.

  

But Bailey is the one to watch and heads the small British-based contingency of goalkeeper Dillon Barnes, defender Gregory Leigh, midfielder Ravel Morrison and striker Andre Gray.

Gray, who plies his trade with QPR, last scored for the Boyz with a last-gasp header in January’s 3-2 defeat to Panama. Antonio was also on target, easily converting a fifth-minute penalty.

Hall oversaw a camp with U20 head coach Marcel Gayle, where he cast his eye over 18 islanders and 21 U20 players before finalising his 24-strong squad. It was due to be 23 players until the interim head coach opted to include US-based midfielder Lamar Walker and 29-year-old forward Atapharoy Bygrave who competes in the Jamaica top flight for Dunbeholden FC.

A pair of U20s midfielders, namely Christopher Pearson and Tarick Ximines have been promoted to the senior squad. Other islanders to join Bygrave for three tough games comprises goalkeeper Nicholas Nelson, defenders Jamoi Topey, Ricardo Thomas, midfielders Dwayne Atkinson, Ramone Howell, Demar Rose and  striker Daniel Green (Mount Pleasant Academy).

Exciting left winger Alex Marshall, who turns out for HFX Wanderers in Canada, was the star of the show during camp. He captained the U23 team during the 2020 CONCACAF Olympic Games qualifiers, and has made 10 appearances for the senior Boyz.

While Hall, and the JFF, were concentrating on islanders it was a bitter blow for the regulars faces. Fulham forward Bobby Decordova-Reid and Stoke City defender Liam Moore are among the England-based absentees. With Philadelphia Union attacker Cory Burke, Minnesota United’s left back Kemar Lawrence and FC Cincinnati’s right back Alvas Powell among the US-based regulars overlooked.

But as good as the team looks on paper, it is all about what happens on the pitch and in reality for the axe to fall on some players could be conceived as long overdue.

With the lack of service from midfield throughout this disappointing campaign, the return of speedy winger Bailey could be a real game-changer. His confidence and pride has taken a recent battering because he has experienced a tricky debut season in England partly due to injuries.

Bailey is also struggling to earn a starting berth under Aston Villa head coach Steve Gerrard, whose tactics tend to be a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation. If Bailey continues to be deemed surplus to requirements, then he will be seeking a new club during the summer transfer window or continue to make cameo appearances.

  

The Boyz, who have collected just the one victory after 11 games, are now only playing for pride in these three matches as they cannot qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar. However, with the looming likelihood of a new head coach, or the improbable appointment of Hall on a permanent basis, individuals will be performing for their potential future involvement.

With Jamaica seemingly doomed midway their World Cup campaign, having failed miserably to gel as a team that was not helped by Whitmore’s transparent tactics, the focus is now firmly on the future.

On paper they should have been pushing the big boys of Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States to automatically qualify out of the eight-team table. Instead it is Canada, a surprise package, who are the only nation to remain unbeaten after 11 games.

Canada, guided by British-born head coach John Herdman since 2018, sit top of the table and host the Boyz three days after El Salvador visit Kingston’s National Stadium on 24 March.

Herdman guided the Canada Women’s Soccer Team to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals before taking the helm with the men. He has since transformed their fortunes as they race up the FIFA world rankings and currently lie 29 places above Jamaica at no.33.

Key defender Alphonso Davies is absent from the Canada squad, having recently been diagnosed with a slight heart inflammation by his club Bayern Munich. But it is at the other end of the pitch that Hall’s troops will need to be firing on all cylinders with strikers Jonathan David (Lille, France) and all-time top scorer Cyle Larin (Besiktas, Turkey) keen to keep Canada’s remarkable run going.

El Salvador, who lost 2-0 to Canada in their previous match, are the first opponents for the new-look Jamaica team. Their campaign has been tarnished by a player revolt over bonuses and claims of mistreatment by the Salvadoran Football Federation, which has left them out of the running to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Since they were held 1-1 by visiting Jamaica in November, El Salvador have won just once – a 2-0 triumph over basement side Honduras – in six matches. So with confidence low and head coach Hugo Pérez slowly trying to alter the team since he became head coach last year, then the Boyz could actually snatch a rare victory.

El Salvador-born Pérez was a classy midfielder who made more than 70 appearances for the USA. Since he took over the national team he started boasting his qualifying roster by heavily recruiting players born in the United States to Salvadoran parents. Once the side has cohesion then El Salvador could be a force to be reckoned with, far above their world ranking at no.70 – just eight places behind the Boyz.

To conclude Jamaica’s dire World Cup campaign, which should have been a breeze with El Salvador experiencing troubles off the pitch and Costa Rica no longer feared in the region, Honduras will be the visitors to the National Stadium on 30 March.

  

This match is Hall’s best opportunity to grab a victory in style and end his tenure with a bang. Although it will arguably be tempting to give fringe players a run out, to suffer a reversal to the side that sits rock bottom surely would end JFF’s interest in retaining Hall.

Honduras hot-shot Albert Elis, who has bagged nine goals in 19 games with French top-tier team FC Girondins Bordeaux this season, is going to be a danger. He is already on the wanted list of some big-spending European teams including AS Monaco.

And Tottenham Hotspurs’ midfielder Wilson Palacios should be another key player under respected head coach Hernan Gomez, who was appointed last October.

Yet even Gomez, who is only one of a trio of coaches to have qualified for the World Cup finals with at least three different nations, has not been able to stop the rot. He has faced six World Cup qualifiers at the helm, and lost each one.

Although Honduras are an extremely physical side, the pace of their game is so much slower than the rest of the nations in the table and that often frustrates opponents. Gomez leads his troops into battle against Panama and Mexico before facing Jamaica, so he will be focused on registering a triumph in Kingston.

As Hall’s experimental squad will gunning to earn a call-up to compete the Nations League, there should be immense hunger within the squad. The Jamaica fans have clearly lost their appetite to watch the Boyz, so only some entertaining displays -with at least one victory – will end the agony of Jamaica on a downward spiral.

JAMAICA SQUAD
Goalkeepers | Dillon Barnes (QPR, England), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union, USA), Amal Knight (Harbour View FC, Jamaica), Nicholas Nelson (Molynes United FC, Jamaica)

Defenders | Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada), Richard King (Cavalier SC, Jamaica), Gregory Leigh (Morecambe, England), Damion Lowe (Inter Miami CF, USA), Adrian Mariappa (Macarthur FC, Australia), Ricardo Thomas (Waterhouse FC, Jamaica), Jamoi Topey (Cavalier SC, Jamaica)

Midfielders | Dwayne Atkinson (Cavalier SC, Jamaica), Leon Bailey (Aston Villa, England), Ramone Howell (Waterhouse FC, Jamaica), Alex Marshall (HFX Wanderers, Canada), Ravel Morrison (Derby County, England), Christopher Pearson (Cavalier SC, Jamaica), Demar Rose (Portmore FC, Jamaica), Lamar Walker (Inter Miami CF, USA), Devon Williams (Inter Miami CF, USA), Tarick Ximines (Harbour View FC, Jamaica)

Forwards | Andre Gray (QPR, England), Daniel Green (Mount Pleasant Academy, Jamaica), Atapharoy Bygrave (Dunbeholden FC, Jamaica)

  

CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table (after 11 games): Canada 25pts (+14 goal difference), USA 21pts (+9), Mexico 21pts (+6), Panama 17pts (+1), Costa Rica 16pts (+1), El Salvador 9pts (-7), Jamaica 7pts (-8), Honduras 3pts (-17)

Jamaica’s remaining matches
El Salvador (h) 24 March, Canada (a) 27 March, Honduras (h) 30 March

Reggae Boyz during a training session in Costa Rica – 2016

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