Road to Rio begins for the Reggae Boyz

September 5th, 2010

Demar Phillips ... key player in midfield.

POSSESSION and stifling defence are elements Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz are aiming to perfect, when they challenge Costa Rica’s Ticos in an international friendly football match at the National Stadium that is slated to kick off at 6 p.m. today.

“We have been focusing on keeping the ball and closing down our opponents when they have the ball, because when we play against teams like these their off-the-ball movements can cause you some problems so we have to contain them,” said Theodore Whitmore, Jamaica’s head coach, adding “… most of our training sessions have been based around that.”

The fine-tuning of such qualities are key to the Jamaicans’ development, as they build towards short-term and long-term goals, pertaining to qualification.

Later this year, they will participate in the Digicel Caribbean Championship, which serves as a qualifier for next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup – flagship tournament of this region.

Further on, and more important, they are building towards World Cup qualification for Brazil 2014.

“It (keeping the ball and closing down the opponent) is something we have been working on but … we have some time before qualification starts (World Cup) so we are using these games to gear up for that,” Whitmore added.

A number of the players drafted for this match have formed the core of this unit for more than two years and, as such, are expected to play key roles in the team’s push for victory.

These include St Georges Sports Club central defender, the very experienced Jermaine Taylor, who will captain the team; goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, one of the most experienced members of the team; central defender Shavar Thomas, midfielders Jason Morrison and Demar Phillips; and strikers Omar Cummings, Dane Richards and Luton Shelton.

All, with the exception of Taylor, are based overseas, but they are not the only overseas-based players in the Jamaican squad. Others include Omar Daley, a utility player who has been out of the team for over a year, and Lovel Palmer.

Tremendous impact

San Jose Earthquakes striker Ryan Johnson joined the team this year and has made a tremendous impact since, scoring against Argentina and having a real stand-out game against Trinidad and Tobago in Trinidad last month, when the Reggae Boyz beat the twin-island republic 3-1 in their last international encounter. Richards, Kavin Bryan and Rudolph Austin scored the goals.

Johnson’s form and that of the other main attackers augur well for the team, essentially; and even though it will pose some selection problems for Whitmore, he is quite contended with his cast.

“We have prolific goalscorers but on the day I just hope that all will be on top form for the game and that they will be able to score some goals,” he said. “Concentration and communication are going to be key in the game on Sunday. I think an early goal will be good for us as well.”

The pacy Shelton is a consistent scorer, Omar Cummings is a dangerous and menacing forward, as is Richards, who is in rich form. Then there is the less flashy, but equally industrious Nicholas Addlery, who has some very clean touches and is also quite decent at heading.

Richards, actually, is expected to play an attacking role from flank midfield, with Phillips on the other side, while Richard Edwards, one of the few local-based players expected to start, should hold down one of two spots in central midfield.

The other should go to regular Morrison, who brings balance and poise to an area of the team that will not have the services of Austin, because he was red-carded in Trinidad.

The Boyz played quite well in that encounter, controlling play and barely giving up a chance against a relatively youthful aggregation.

The Costa Ricans have football culture and are expected to be much tougher, because they have superior quality.

Much of it was on display last year at the Gold Cup, when they beat Jamaica 1-0 on a goal by deep midfielder Celso Borges.

Jamaica, then, were very competitive and could have won the match if their finishing was better, though they played most of the match with 10 after a first-half expulsion of Austin.

Ready for the challenge

It was Jamaica’s 10th loss in 19 encounters against the Central Americans, who are ranked 53rd in the world.

“We have played against the Costa Rica team a number of times and we are ready for the challenge on Sunday,” Whitmore remarked. “We just have to turn our half chances into goals. We always get a lot of goalscoring chances but we have to do better to put the ball into the back of the net.”

Jamaica’s ranking stands at 82 and, as usual, its improvement generally lists high among the Boyz’s objectives, as it carries implications for players seeking contracts in Britain, as well as the Jamaica Football Federation’s bargaining powering in securing matches against quality teams.

The squad assembled and begun training at midweek. Whitmore expressed satisfaction with their effort.

“So far, we are very satisfied with what we have seen from the Boyz, we have our last training session on Saturday, and hopefully, we will have everything ready in time for Sunday.”


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