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Towards Brazil 2014

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Located 8,000 miles away in Australasia across several time zones, New Zealand could be described as 'half a world away' from Jamaica.

Hampered by a missed connecting flight in the US west coast city of Los Angeles, the main party of the Jamaican football squad which faced New Zealand in a Friendly International in Auckland on Wednesday arrived there just 36 hours before game time.

Those of us who have crossed multiple time zones will know that at least some of those players who took the field for Jamaica in mid-week would have been suffering from jet lag, including physical/mental fatigue and disorientation.

To make the task even more challenging for the Reggae Boyz squad, which had several inexperienced youngsters drawn from the Jamaican Premier League, the New Zealand national football team are by no means pushovers. We say this, notwithstanding the quirky FIFA ranking method which places the hosts 70 places behind the 50th place Reggae Boyz.

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In fact, New Zealand made it to the 2010 World Cup finals and — though they failed to advance from their first round group — earned three draws to have the distinction of being the only unbeaten team in that tournament.

It's against that backdrop that most of those Jamaicans who sat up in the wee hours of early Wednesday to watch the Reggae Boyz eke out a 3-2 win over New Zealand would have eventually gone to sleep well satisfied.

This newspaper appreciates the cautionary tone of assistant coach Mr Alfredo Montesso who, in a post-match interview, said that "It was a good win, but I don't believe we played a good game."

Mr Montesso's comments were no doubt influenced by too many unforced errors from the Jamaican team, with the ball being given away too easily and too often. But we contend that after such a long and arduous journey, the errors were largely understandable.

On the other hand, this newspaper admired the poise, while under pressure, of several of players. Fitness levels seemed good and the pace and verve of Jamaican counter-attacks impressed.

Of note was that all three Jamaican goals came from local-based players.

Though the opening Jamaican goal from Mr Xavian Virgo appeared fortuitous — the popular view being that it was an intended cross which lobbed the New Zealand goalkeeper — there could be no mistaking the confidence and efficiency in execution displayed by Messrs Tramaine Stewart and Navion Boyd for the second and third goals.

Of course, this triumph over New Zealand followed 1-0 and 3-0 wins over neighbouring Cuba in Jamaica last week.

It means the year has started well for the Reggae Boyz as they prepare for CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in June. Football fans will recall that the Reggae Boyz are grouped with the USA, Guatemala, as well as Antigua and Barbuda in the semi-final round of CONCACAF qualifiers from June 8 to October 16. Two teams from each of three groups will move on to the final round of qualifiers with the prize being a place at the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil.

Jamaica Football Federation President Captain Horace Burrell and others tasked with marketing Jamaica's football will be especially pleased with the successes of the last week-and-a-half. They will be hoping that the results of remaining friendlies ahead of the World Cup campaign are equally good.

For coach Mr Theodore Whitmore and his assistant Mr Montesso, winning will be of less importance with greater emphasis being placed on fine-tuning ahead of the qualifiers.

All that said, this newspaper hopes and trusts that it will be mostly smooth sailing for the Reggae Boyz over the next year-and-a-half or so. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup Finals would be a huge boost for this country.

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