Joy and anger on the road to Russia

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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The World Cup of football qualifiers to determine 31 of the 32 teams to participate on the grand stage in Russia next year were almost completed during the course of last week with last-ditch efforts being made by countries to gain final positions. Host nation Russia are automatic qualifiers.

Going into the last set of matches most of the worldwide intrigue surrounded the possible non-participation of perennial contenders Argentina, who faced a must-win situation in the harsh high altitude of Ecuador. Argentine fears were laid to rest by one Mr Lionel Messi, who in a command performance scored a hat-trick and ensured a place for the two-time champions.

While there was weeping and moaning in Holland, Scotland, Wales and Chile, probably the biggest shock took place in Jamaica's region of play — the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) — with the demise of the United States.

The United States had a clear mission, that of drawing against the bottom team in the final group, Trinidad and Tobago, thereby earning one point which would guarantee a spot in Russia. Results from the other games in the group had no bearing on the US, if they earned that solitary point. But as fate would have it, Trinidad, fielding almost a second 11, broke American hearts with a 2-1 victory.

The inevitable fallout of the failure of the US to qualify has been fierce, scathing and scornful as pundits, including former players, have lashed the present players, the US Football Association, and everyone else in close proximity, for the downfall of the Americans.

US head coach Mr Bruce Arena became the first high-profile victim of the fallout when he resigned yesterday, ending his second stint in the post. “This certainly is a major setback for the senior men's national team programme, and questions rightly should be asked about how we can improve. No doubt this process already has started and will continue so that US soccer can progress,” he said.

The failure of the heavily resourced United States team brings into sharp focus the long known and almost overused phrase in football that “the ball is round” and anything can happen during the 90 minutes of play. That is why the games are played and why underdogs like Leicester City can win the English Premier League over the big spenders like Manchester United, and Manchester City.

This is further advertised by the qualification of our long-time friends Panama, as while much of the attention has been placed on the American débâcle, the celebrations have been wild and unceasing in Panama who earned the right of World Cup participation for the first time in their history after a last gasp 2-1 win over Costa Rica.

This newspaper congratulates the Panamanians for their historic achievement and we wish them all the best in Russia.

For Jamaica, the journey to Russia was curtailed at the semi-final stage, and our failure to reach the last group bitterly highlighted that there is still much to be done to improve the lot of our football.

It is our sincerest hope that new president of the Jamaica Football Federation, Mr Michael Ricketts, and his team are already burning the midnight oil, plotting the way forward for the journey to Qatar in 2022.




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