Sport

Boyz hunt top spot in Gold Cup

IAN BURNETT
with the REGGAE BOYZ
@ The Concacaf Gold Cup in the USA

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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San Antonio, Texas — Jamaica will look to book one of two automatic berths from Group C to the quarter-finals of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament when they oppose El Salvador in their final preliminary round match today.

Kick-off is slated for 4:00 pm (Jamaica time) in the 65,000-capacity Alamodome indoor arena, former home of the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs.

Mexico close out against the pointless Curacao in the second game slated for 6:30 pm.

Mexico and Jamaica are joint leaders on four points after two rounds of games, but the Mexicans hold the edge on more goals scored, with each having a plus-two goal difference.

El Salvador are next on three points following their 2-0 triumph over Curacao on Thursday at Sports Authority Field in Denver, Colorado, where Jamaica and Mexico battled to a goalless result.

After Panama defeated Martinique 3-0 in a Group B game yesterday, the Reggae Boyz are assured of advancing to the quarter-finals even if they lose to El Salvador. A draw could secure them second place and a match-up against Canada, who were runners-up from Group A.

The Group C winners are set to face the third-placed team from Group A or B.

Both games are slated for the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona on Thursday.

If the Boyz finish third in the group and are one of the best third-placed teams, then they travel to the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their quarter-final against Group A winners Costa Rica on Wednesday.

But Head Coach Theodore Whitmore has only one aim, and that is to get maximum points from today's game. Having secured automatic qualification, they can then take it from there.

“We don't want to be the best third team, we want to finish atop the group — whether with Mexico or whatsoever the case may be. So we are going out there for a victory tomorrow, but we just want to stay focused on the task at hand,” Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

And the former Reggae Boyz captain is quietly confident that he has the firepower to undo the Central Americans and secure the necessary points today.

“I think for tomorrow's game, counter-attacks at both ends of the pitch, the transition, and speed should be our main objective.

“We will definitely change again for tomorrow's game; we are going to throw more players in front. We applied a one-striker (system) against Mexico but ,based on what we saw from El Salvador, we are going to play two strikers tomorrow and two quick wingers. So the transition, both offensive and defensive, and speed should be our main focus going into the game.

“We are in a tournament and we are playing for a result. We welcome a point against Mexico, but I think we have enough to go on and win this game against El Salvador. What we don't want to do is concede, because once we don't concede then all is in our favour,” added Whitmore.

The Boyz, along with today's rivals El Salvador, arrived here in San Antonio from Denver, Colorado, to wretched, 97 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. And yesterday morning the coach arranged for a training session at Trinity University instead of the scheduled session inside the game venue later in the evening, thus giving his players more time for recovery.

In a lively, 90-minute session, Whitmore reverted to a 4-4-2 formation and added striker Romario Williams to partner Darren Mattocks in attack, with Cory Burke (left) and Oniel Fisher (right) providing speed and width, backed up by Je-Vaughn Watson and Kevon Lambert in the centre of the park.

The usual suspects — Jermaine Taylor, Damion Lowe, Kemar Lawrence and Alvas Powell — occupied the back four, with Captain Andre Blake in goal. There was no place for Michael Binns in this set-up.

Whitmore thought the players adjusted well to his system and he is confident those selected possess the characteristics needed to deliver the goods today.

“Well in some ways, yes, not a hundred per cent, but at least they understood what we were trying to achieve from the training session and I'm very pleased with that.

“They are pretty much shaping up. What we don't want to do is to be overconfident going into the El Salvador game, knowing that we have just got two results from Curacao and Mexico. What we want is to keep improving as a team, in terms of performance, both individually and collectively; we still need to maintain our discipline defensively,” noted Whitmore.

Yesterday, temperatures soared to just below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (99) on thermometers, and though such conditions will not be a factor for the players with the game being played indoors, Whitmore said that he was pleased with the maturity shown and progress made by his players, both on and off the pitch.

“Definitely, game by game; and I keep reiterating that from the Curacao game to the Mexico game I have seen improvement in such a short space of time. And I'm very pleased with the way how the players deal with the situations and how they handle themselves, even on the pitch.

“We still have areas that we need to work on, like how we manage the game and all of that, but with a bit more time it will happen,” he ended.

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