Bring 'em on

More practice games for Reggae Boyz, urges 'Tappa'

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Though disappointed with certain aspects of the Reggae Boyz's performance against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in their tier-two friendly game last Satuday, Head Coach Theodore Whitmore remains steadfast in his belief that continued high-quality games will improve his players' capacity over the long run.

Played in front of 8,226 men in the posh 62,000-plus capacity King Abdullah Sports City (stadium) against the three-time Asian Cup champions, who have already qualified for next year's FIFA World Cup Finals in Russia, the Boyz suffered a 2-5 loss, but hopefully some of them would have gained immeasurably from the experience.

The Reggae Boyz head coach had predetermined as part of his plans to expose some of his younger players to the demands of international football, and as such he gave starting berths to two of his youngsters for the first time, while leaving his most experienced defender, Jermaine Taylor, on the bench.

By game's end, Whitmore had identified the likes and dislikes, and was left calling for more of these friendly games so that his players can learn and develop.

“It is a work in progress and we just have to give these players quality practice games to see what they can offer so that, at the end of the day, we as a technical staff have a decision to make,” declared Whitmore on Sunday as the team prepared to depart Jeddah for its return home.

Saudi Arabia went ahead in the 22nd minute through Salem Al Dawsari, before Jamel Hardware replied with a beautiful equaliser in the 35th minute. However, three minutes later Hazza Al Hazza restored the lead for the home team and a minute to the break the Suadis increased their lead through a hard penalty call which was converted by Salman Al Farj.

Three minutes into the second half, right-sided defender Mohamed Al Berik turned home from a melee, and although Marvin Morgan pulled back back for Jamaica with his first touch in the 68th minute, gloss was added to the final score in time added when Abdulah Al Joui tapped home after fellow substitute Muktar Ali had done fantastic work to create the opening.

Whitmore was unhappy with the performance in the first half, but had more to be pleased about after he adjusted the team in the second half.

“Well, it was a very disappointing performance, especially in the first half. We made a lot of unforced errors and we didn't track the Saudis; they played a lot of one-twos and we didn't track their runners, but I think the performance improved in the second half, especially when we made the changes. I think we were a bit more compact in the second half and we had players who wanted to play, in terms of getting possession of the football and using it,” observed the France 1998 World Cup hero.

He added: “I didn't think the defensive unit did us any justice in the first half in terms of how we organised and keep our shape, and I also think the (lack of) communication made a big impact on us in the first half as well.”

The coach also justified his decision to leave Taylor out of the starting team as the plan was to examine other options in the player pool.

“These are the sorts of games where we have to try new things. We know Jermaine Taylor is one of our senior defenders and at some point Jermaine will be out, so we have to look at someone to match up with two or three other players to find the pair to match up with Damion Lowe. So these are the games where we can afford to look at people,” he explained.

On the bright side, Whitmore gave the younger players a passing grade, as he thought they exhibited the right attitude and character needed at the international level.

“I was very pleased with the new players. As I keep saying, Hardware brings something special to the team from he joined this team; Alex Marshall, a bit young, but I think he handled himself well; Marsh, when he came on, you could see the confidence; Marvin Morgan is also playing with confidence and we had two people who were going at their defence …”

Whitmore, popularly called “Tappa”, said he needed to see striker Michael Seaton in more games. The 21-year-old Maccabi Ahi Nazareth frontman was introduced four minutes into the second half, but the coach is willing to give him other opputunities to show his true colours.

Forced to make adjustments after the hosts increased their lead early in the second half, and especially with the introduction of the experienced Teylor to sure up the defence, the Reggae Boyz for the first time became competitive in the contest.

Not only did they half the marauding attacks of the Arabian Desert nation, but they started creating openings with more regularity. Morgan hit the target and was inches from another; Seaton was even closer, but failed to stab home Shaun Francis's left-sidd coss from inside the six-yard box; and Chevone Marsh also had the opportunity to hit the target.

“I think the players we introduced were hungry, and we had players on the field who love to play with the football and you could see that they were demanding the football ... Marsh, Morgan, and even Fabian (Reid) was composed. Rosario Harriott, I haven't seen him play with that sort of confidence that he brought to the game today,” beamed Whitmore.

But the sloppy plays in the first half left Whitmore peeved and he couldn't resist reiterating his disappointment.

“Very disappointed at this level. A simple five-yard, 10-yard pass, we just give them away to our opponents and at this stage, not to take anything from the Saudis — a quality team with quality players who move the ball well — but this level of play is unacceptable.

“And one of the things I must mention is that we tend to slow down the game a bit too much. We weren't playing with that zest, that pace and even our transition — most of the times we were outnumbered, and when you saw the Saudi team attack us, it was just one-twos and get behind us and find the back of the neck.

“When we introduced fresh legs, they came on and we kept our shape. We were compact in midfield, so we didn't offer too much space for them to play and hurt us in the second half.”

Whitmore said going forward it is going to take a lot of training on the pitch to correct some of these weaknesses, because “it can't be when we meet for three days or two days before a game and we just meet up and expect to get it right”.

He also chimed in with the poor quality of the playing surfaces in Jamaica and the importance of upgrading them if the players are to execute at an acceptable standard.

“And if you look at the quality surfaces that we play on when we go away compared to when we go back to Jamaica. So our surfaces need improving if we intend to play quality football,” Whitmore ended.

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