Photo: Reggae Boyz coach Winfried Schafer
When Jamaica made history by being the first English-speaking Caribbean country to qualify for the World Cup in France 17 years ago, Junior Flemmings was still clutching onto his mother's bosom. The former national under 17 midfielder and captain has been named in the final 23 man squad for Friday’s opening CONCACAF World Cup semifinal round qualifier against Panama at the National Stadium. The 19 year old who has won all trophies at the schoolboy level now plies his trade currently for Tivoli Gardens FC. He has been on a roll putting in a string of quality performances in the local Red Stripe Premier League. These performances caught the eye of the Reggae Boyz coaching staff, who decided to give him a shot at the senior level.
The Reggae Boyz are currently low on confidence, but on paper don't lack quality. Since their historic second place finish in the Gold Cup, Jamaica's performances has been very far from their best. They narrowly made it to the semi finals stage as they scraped past central America minnows Nicaragua (WCQ) and were totally outclassed three goals to nil, in last month’s friendly in South Korea.
Goals win matches
Winfried Schäfer is now banking on 31-year-old hitman Claydon Donaldson from Birmingham City to add some much-needed firepower for back-to-back World Cup Qualifiers.
He has shown what he can do at the club level scoring 20 goals in less than two seasons and will be hoping to carry this form over to the national set up. Bradford-born Donaldson, will be eager to try to emulate Marlon King, another Jamaican hot-shot who played for Birmingham City, and is expected to be part of a three-pronged attacking line-up spearheaded by Giles Barnes and the tricky Darren Mattocks.
Schäfer is adamant about scoring goals and blasted: “Attack is the best form of defence for us, we don’t want to just stay behind the ball and defend.”
With this in mind he called up young Kevaughn Frater of Harbour View and Allan Ottey of Montego Bay United, along with Flemmings as the local based players in the squad. Deploying a 4-3-3 formation, the creativity from the middle of the park will come from Garath McCleary, Jobi McNuff, Lee Williamson and captain Rudolph Austin.
Blackburn manager Bowyer has high praises for Williamson saying: “I thought Hope Akpan and Lee Williamson, on his first start, were solid and terrific in there, giving us the protection. “Lee used all his experience. He’s a terrific professional, who trains well every day, and helps the younger ones.
Among those returning for this qualifier, will be captain Rodolph Austin, who missed the Nicaragua matches, in an effort to secure a contract with the Denmark outfit Brandby. His robustness and feisty tackling can break up attacks and his clean vision can pick a pass. Austin will be added strength in the midfield. McCleary and McNuff have also had a very good start to the 2015/2016 season for Reading and Leyton Orient respectively.
Can Los Canaleros extend their unbeaten run
Both teams are hoping to get off to a good start. Irrespective of the depth and strength of the Jamaicans, Panama is going into the encounter with a slight advantage. As far back as 1993 Jamaica has never beaten Panama in a World Cup Qualifier drawing 4 and losing once. However, Since their disappointment at the Gold Cup in USA, Los Canaleros (‘the Canal Men’) have stuttered during four friendlies and scored just twice. Defeats at the hands of Uruguay, Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico have signalled that the team ranked number 65 in the world is not in as strong a position as they envisaged although some experimental squad changes were made.
In their last World Cup campaign, USA crashed their party by a narrow defeat in stoppage time to prevent them from progression to the play offs against New Zealand. Coach Darlo Gomez of Panama is confident that captain Roman Torres, Blas Perez and leading talisman Luis Tejada can pull the strings for his team.
The attack minded Panamanians will provide a bit of trouble for the Reggae Boyz frail defense. Football can be very ungrateful, and is indeed a sport that one should expect the unexpected. Home advantage for the Boyz should tilt the tie towards Schäfer’s men, but Gomez's men can spoil the party. Whatever the outcome this this should be a crackerjack.
The game will be played at the National Stadium in Kingston on Friday, starting at 9:00pm.