By Gregory Bryce
It seemed that just a few weeks ago, all was well with Jamaica’s national football team, and the upcoming World Cup qualifications would be nothing more than a mere formality for the Reggae Boyz as the road to Qatar seemed well and truly underway. Yet here we are, a few months away from the final round of qualifiers and the entire team seems to be in disarray.
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is fighting a war on two fronts and very little seems to be going their way, both locally and internationally.
The ray of hope that is Michail Antonio’s decision to play for the Reggae Boyz instead of for England seems to pale in comparison to the fact that several of the reliable first-team players have refused to return to national duty until their pay demands are met.
This means that while the team may have secured a new wealth of talent to choose from to represent the country, it comes at the cost of various players – the most vocal being stalwart defender, Damion Lowe.
And despite this seeming to unravel our World Cup bid, the JFF seems robust in their decisions and has, at this point in time, refused to meet the players’ demands.
So what does this mean for the team? Who will fill the ranks that are now vacant?
The JFF seems to think that the local players will do the job, but are finding it even more difficult on that side of the fence. While the local players are far more willing to don the national jersey at this time, they are unable to do so due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases on the island.
The team has so far had two of their training camps shut down by the government as they have been deemed unsafe, in light of the pandemic. And unlike the foreign leagues, the local players have not played a single match of competitive football since March of last year, when the Red Stripe Premier League was cancelled.
Jamaica will be facing off against regional rivals, the United States, next week Thursday in Austria, and it seems the attitude of the team is to simply bite the bullet and press on forward. After all, nothing else can go wrong.
But once again, it seems like everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
With the unavailability of several players, and the inadequate training sessions due to the government’s decision to shut down the training camps, the JFF had released a 19-man-squad list to travel to Austria for the friendly match. However, as the team went about securing their necessary documents for the team, several players were denied visas and deemed unable to make the trip – further shortening the selection of players.
As of now, Jamaica will be fielding a team of mostly debutants against the United States, and in my opinion, nothing short of a miracle will see the Reggae Boyz snatching a victory from the Americans.
Debutants Taking the Stage
Most eyes will be on Adrian Mariappa, the Bristol City man who has returned to the team after over a year out of duty. Mariappa will be leading the lines on Thursday and will be looking towards the eight debutants that have traveled with the team.
Curtis Tilt (Wigan Athletic), Amari Bell (Blackburn Rovers), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford), Liam Moore (Reading), Wesley Harding (Rotherham United), Andre Gray (Watford), Renaldo Wellington (Montego Bay United) and Jabari Hylton (UWI) will be the main focus as many will be looking to see which of these players will be able to cement a place in Theodore Whitmore’s plans going forward.
Andre Gray will no doubt be the target man going forward, the Championship striker being one of the most recognizable figures within the squad.
Whitmore is at a disadvantage right now, and aiming to win the game will – reasonably, of course – not be one of his priorities. Instead, I think the veteran coach will be using this fixture as a way to assess where the team will need development and which players will be making the push towards World Cup qualification.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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