Jamaica Dares to Dream Again
Jamaica Dares to Dream Again
As far as Jamaica are concerned, memories of France 1998 are growing hazier with each passing day. The Reggae Boyz’s FIFA World Cup™ debut, which brought with it an all-time high of 27th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, generated much excitement and anticipation in Jamaican football, all of which has long since evaporated.
Their long decline began at the Caribbean Cup the following year, a tournament they went into as holders only to be knocked out in the semi-finals by Cuba. Further confirmation of their waning powers came when they were eliminated without scoring a single goal at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000. Suddenly, Jamaica were back in the doldrums.
Further disappointment would come in the next three World Cup qualifying competitions. Their bid to reach Korea/Japan 2002 fell flat when they finished last but one in the final six-team round, and in the preliminaries for Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 the Caribbean side went out in the penultimate phase.
The malaise was reflected on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. By October 2008, they had plummeted to 116th place, the lowest in their history. For the powers that be in the Jamaican game, it was a line in the sand.
One step from glory
The man they turned to was former midfielder Theodore Whitmore, an inspirational force in Jamaica’s qualification for France 1998. Installed as coach ahead of the Brazil 2014 preliminaries, the man they call 'Tappa' had the fans thinking big again. With a record of three wins, a draw and two defeats in the penultimate qualifying round, the Reggae Boyz returned to the final six-team group to fight it out with the cream of the CONCACAF Zone.
The mini revival saw them climb back up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 58th by the time the final phase began in 2013, though there was more heartache in store when the Jamaicans fell short of a place in Brazil, Whitmore having already resigned when their hopes were fast receding. In to replace him came the much-travelled Winfried Schafer, who boasts stints in Cameroon, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Thailand on his career résumé. For all his experience, however, the German could prevent his charges from finishing bottom of the group.
A fresh rebuilding process began at this year’s Caribbean Cup, a competition the Jamaicans hosted. Drawn in Group B, the Reggae Boyz kicked off with an underwhelming 1-1 draw with Martinique, though the performance of young Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks provided much cause for optimism and Schafer’s backline looked solid enough.
Victories then followed against Antigua and Barbuda and Haiti, allowing the tournament hosts to top the section with six points and a record of six goals scored and one conceded. Their reward was a place in the final against Trinidad and Tobago.
No time to celebrate
Sticking to the 4-4-2 formation that had taken them through to the showpiece match and putting the emphasis on order and discipline rather than entertainment, Jamaica held the Soca Warriors to a goalless draw after extra time. In the shootout that followed they capitalised on misses by Kenwyne Jones and Khaleem Hyland to win 4-3 and take the trophy.
As well as a lot of joy, the win brought Jamaica their biggest ever FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking rise as they shot up from 113th place to 71st, in addition to a slot at the 2016 Copa America Centenario, having already earned an invitation to the 2015 Copa America in Chile. In reaching the last four at the Caribbean Cup, they also clinched a ticket to next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be held in the USA.
Given that hectic schedule, Jamaica have little time to celebrate as they prepare for a year crucial to their future progress, one in which thoughts will also inevitably start to turn to the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign. Twenty years on from their maiden appearance on the biggest stage of all, the Reggae Boyz are itching to tread its boards again.