Money-spinning CONCACAF Nations League semi-final spot up for grabs
Heimir Hallgrimsson has shuffled his pack to try to score his first victory as Jamaica’s head coach, when the Reggae Boyz tackle Mexico inside the Estadio Azteca on Sunday. The former Iceland head coach saw his misfiring Boyz fail miserably against Trinidad & Tobago in last week’s pair of home friendlies. He will be aiming for a vast improvement on those dire displays when he sends his troops out in Mexico City.
Seven squad members selected to face the Soca Warriors have surprisingly been retained for the CONCACAF Nations League game. This comprises Richard King, Dexter Lembikisa, Adrian Mariappa, Ravel Morrison, Demario Phillips, Trivante Stewart and Jahmali Waite.
With so many players flopping in the two games at Montego Bay and Kingston, as well as others missing, Hallgrimsson has decided to bring in a couple of English-born new faces.
Reading’s U-21 shotstopper Coniah Boyce-Clarke, who represented England at U-16 and U-17 level, steps up from playing for Jamaica’s U-20 side. While Barnsley Town’s box-to-box midfielder Jon Russell also gets his first nod for the senior Boyz.
It’s primarily an England-based squad, although a surprise omission was Ipswich Town’s left back Gregory Leigh.
The 28-year-old had expected to be involved after the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) informed his club that he was going to be named in the squad. Official documentation and travel documents were sent to Ipswich Town last week, but the JFF have yet to explain why he won’t be part of Hallgrimsson’s 23-player set-up.
Two key players will be missing the match because of injury. Skipper Andre Blake will be sorely missed between the sticks, while at the other end of the pitch West Ham United forward Michail Antonio is forced to sit it out.
Personal reasons have deprived Hallgrimsson of promising Chelsea teenagers Omari Hutchinson and Dujuan “Whisper” Richards. Attacking midfielder Hutchinson made his debut for the London club this year, while Kingston College and Phoenix All-Stars Football Academy ace Richards has recently joined Chelsea on a pre-contract deal.
Hallgrimsson could have done with both players this weekend as his troops have yet to find the back of the net since he took charge. Following Jamaica’s first defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in a decade, a 1-0 reversal at the Montego Bay Sports Complex, the Boyz bounced back to scrape out a drab scoreless stalemate in Kingston.
It’s now back to business for Boyz. They lead three-team League A Group A with five points after three games, just a single point ahead of Mexico who will tackle minnows Suriname after playing Jamaica. The group winners will advance to June’s CONCACAF Nations League semi-finals in Las Vegas.
Despite uninspiring performances, Hallgrimsson’s fighting talk brings hope to Jamaica’s legions of fans for their must-win contest.
He explained at the JFF’s press conference: “We’re not shy to say we are going there to win because it’s truly [an] important game for us. It’s a Nations League match, so if we win we have a chance to win a trophy.
“Of course we have big respect for Mexico. I saw two games in Qatar in the World Cup [finals], they are a really attack-minded, high-pressing team.”
Yet at Qatar 2022, Mexico were eliminated in the group stages at the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time since 1978. As a result head coach Gerardo Martino left his role with Argentinian Diego Cocca only installed last month.
Cocca’s squad will warm-up for the Boyz with a friendly on Friday against Suriname, albeit without captain Andrés Guardado as the midfielder wishes to retire from international matches.
El Tri have named 11 players who ply their trade in Europe, with hot-shot striker Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord, Netherlands) the youngest at 21 years and keeper Francisco Guillermo Ochoa (Salernitana, Italy) the oldest at 37.
With two new coaches ready to make their mark and march into the highly-lucrative Nations League semi-finals, the pressure inside the Estadio Azteca will undoubtedly be a cauldron.
Mexico fans have extremely high expectations of drumming out success, and over the years have been rewarded. However, Mexico slipped up two years ago in both the Gold Cup and Nations League to finish runner-up to the United States in each competition.
Jamaica have yet to set the footballing arena alight, although made it to 1998 World Cup finals and have at times been dominant in the Caribbean. Having drifted over the years from their position as a highly promising nation, Hallgrimsson’s appointment is solely to guide the Boyz to the next FIFA World Cup finals in 2026.
His first job will be for his players to start scoring, and then to carve out eye-catching performances that would finally make Jamaica a force to be reckoned with.
Goalkeepers | Coniah Boyce-Clarke (Reading U-21 Academy, England), Amal Knight (Lexington SC, USA), Jahmali Waite (Pittsburgh Riverhounds, USA)
Defenders | Amari’i Bell (Luton Town, England), Javian Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Canada), Richard King (Cavalier SC), Kemar Lawrence (Minnesota United FC, USA), Dexter Lembiksia (Wolves, England), Damion Lowe (Philadelphia Union, USA), Adrian Mariappa (unattached), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford, England)
Midfielders | Daniel Johnson (Preston North End, England), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising FC, USA), Ravel Morrison (DC United, USA), Demario Phillips (Dunbeholden), Jon Russell (Barnsley Town, England)
Strikers | Leon Bailey (Aston Villa, England), Cory Burke (New York Red Bulls, USA), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham, England), Jamal Lowe (AFC Bournemouth — on loan at QPR — England), Shamar Nicholson (Spartak Moscow, Russia), Kaheem Parris (Dynamo Kyiv, Ukraine), Trivante Stewart (Mount Pleasant FC)
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