Big day for Boyz – Jamaicans hunt favourable result against Guatemala

June 10th, 2011

Head coach Theodore Whitmore (centre) takes the Reggae Boyz squad through a practice session at the Florida International University Stadium yesterday.

MIAMI, Florida — Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz will look to continue their dominance over Guatemala and book a berth in the second phase of the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament when they oppose the Central Americans here at the Florida International University Stadium at 7:00 pm (6:00 pm Jamaica time) today.

The Jamaicans, who lead Group B with three points following their 4-0 demolition of Grenada at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles on Monday night, are two points ahead of both Honduras and Guatemala, with Grenada rooted at the bottom of the four-team group without a point.

In the second game of tonight’s double-header at 9:00 pm (8:00 pm Jamaica time), Honduras meet Grenada.

Jamaica have won all three previous meetings with Guatemala at the Tournament — 3-2 in 1998; 2-0 in 2003, and 4-3 when they last met in 2005.

A victory today would propel the Boyz into the second phase of the competition, and it would be their fifth time beyond the group stage in this their eighth Gold Cup Tournament appearance.

Jamaica have met Central American teams on 11 occasions, winning five, drawing two and losing three. As usual, head coach Theodore Whitmore is employing the same approach for each opponent.

“First, every game we come here to play we know it is going to be tough, and Guatemala will be the same, so we are preparing ourselves to face a tough Guatemala because their backs are against the wall. They only have one point, so at least they need to get something out of our game, so we are preparing ourselves as much as possible to qualify from that game,” he said.

The Jamaican players, too, are aiming to for maximum points from today’s game to book their place in the next round.

“Well, first of all to speak about qualification it is very important to do it now in this game and I know all of us are looking forward to doing that. The vibe in the camp has been building since the last two years, we are still a team, we’re focused and everybody is up for the challenge at hand,” captain Shavar Thomas told the Observer just ahead of yesterday’s final training session on the artificial surface at the FIU Stadium.

His central partner Dicoy Williams was equally upbeat about a positive result.

“Our chances are always good. For me it is a game and there is always a chance of winning any game. I think the team right now is very focused and we know what we are here to do.”

He added: “The game tomorrow (today) will be very interesting and we could win the group or at least go through to the next round. What we would like to do is win the group and be one of the favourites going through to the second round, so it is going to be a very challenging game, so we have to be focused and ready for it.”

Yesterday Whitmore and his assistant coach Alfredo Montesso were meticulous as they took the players through a few tactical drills, which included transitioning from defence to lightning quick counter-attack from set pieces.

Though Guatemala earned a point in their opening contest, they lost two defenders – Gustavo Cabrera (61st) and Henry Medina (79th) – to two bookable offences.

However, they are led by the outstanding striker Carlos Ruis and playmaker Jose Contreras.

Ruiz, a 31-year-old striker for the Philadelphia Union in the Major League soccer, is commonly called ‘El Pescadito’ or ‘The Little Fish’.

Known for his robust, hold up play, and an uncanny eye for goal, Ruiz has 82 goals in 155 regular season matches and 16 post-season goals in MLS, and has been a member of the Guatemalan national team since 1998 and is their all-time leading goal scorer with 41 strikes in 83 internationals.

He retired in 2008 after representing his country in three World Cup qualifying campaigns – 2002, 2006 and 2010. However, he came out of retirement this January.

His reputation precedes him, and the Jamaican defenders are well aware of the threat that he poses.

“I know what Ruiz brings to the Guatemalan team, he’s a very good player, and in the box he’s very deadly, but outside of the box he’s not going to do too much to hurt you. When the ball is wide we will have to have a man on him, get a hand on him or something,” Thomas said.

Thomas’s defending teammate Jermaine Taylor, who now plays for Houston Dynamo, is also well aware of the pesky ‘Little Fish’, but is not overly bothered.

“Well, actually I’ve played against him a couple of times, he’s a pretty good player, strong and can hold up the ball, but we, too, are experienced as well, so it won’t be a tough game once we do our best and do what we can do correctly, I think it should be easy for us.”

And Dicoy Williams, Jamaica’s other central defender, though having never played against him, believes the Boyz will have to be disciplined in defence.

“I have never played against him before, but I saw him in the game against Honduras and he moves a lot, so we have to figure out from early in the game where he likes to move in spaces for the ball in order to mark him, we can’t wait until he scores a goal. He’s a good striker, he scores a lot of goals if given the chance, so we can’t give him any chances.”

Taylor is confident the Boyz can maintain their dominance over the Central Americans, once they stick to their style of play.

“Firstly, I think nothing changes, once we keep possession of the ball going forward or in defence, it will be good for us because when we saw them play they move the ball a lot and they pressure the ball a lot also, but keeping the ball and opening the field I think we can play a good game against them.”

But despite paying close attention to Ruiz, and the easy manner in which he and his teammates collapse on the field with the slightest of contacts, captain Thomas doesn’t want to stray too much from the team’s aggressive style of play.

“We don’t want to change our style of play, that’s what make us unique and that’s what make us good, but we have a referee who controls the game and we just hope he does his best.”

Whitmore is expected to employ the same starting team as in the first game. They are Donovan Ricketts in goal, Thomas, Taylor, Dicoy Williams, Demar Phillips, Rudolph Austin, Jason Morrison, Eric Varnan, Luton Shelton, Ryan Johnson and Dane Richards.

On Wednesday Whitmore experimented with Omar Daley going in at right midfield for Vernan, and Keammar Daley, who looked rather sharp, replacing Johnson. He said then that those were two options which could be utilised in the game.

The squad is completed by Dwayne Miller, Adrian Reid, Richard Edwards, Damion Williams, Jevaughn Watson, as well as DuWayne Kerr and Navion Boyd, who were left off the match card on Monday night.

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