Hot Jamaican underdogs face six-time winners Mexico in Gold Cup final
Jamaica's Reggae Boyz are on a mission. Today at 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. local time), the history-making senior men's football team and Mexico will battle for the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field.
In their race for the gold trophy, the Winfried Schäfer-coached Jamaicans are chasing more history, having already cleared several landmarks in this tournament.
The Boyz registered their only victory over the Americans on their home soil, with a 2-1 semi-final win at Georgia Dome in Atlanta last Wednesday, and became the first Caribbean team to advance to the Gold Cup final.
"History is not important now. I don't want too much pressure on the players," Sch‰fer said after the team's training in Philadelphia at the venue where the final will be played.
"The players have to play football with concentration, with winning mentality. We only talk about win - 'we win, we win, we win'.
"I never talk about losing ... . No, no! I told my players we win today. That is what the players need," added Schäfer.
The Jamaicans are playing with style, character, discipline, understanding and self-belief to achieve results that underline that their football is on the rise.
"When we go into the match against Mexico, everybody knows what they have to do in the match. We have now eight matches, everybody on this team knows what they have to do," said Schäfer as he recounted that most of the Jamaican squad also played at the Copa AmÈrica last month in Chile.
"What we need is a little bit of luck. When we work, a worker who works with heart has luck and our team has luck, and our team is intelligent and has team spirit and tactical discipline," argued the 65-year-old German.
The Reggae Boyz won the Caribbean championship last November, then won friendly games against Venezuela and Cuba by 2-1 and 3-0 margins, respectively, earlier this year.
To underscore their improvements, the Boyz gave a standout performance at the Copa America - South American championship - despite 1-0 defeats to Uruguay, Paraguay and world number-one Argentina, led by the world's best player, Lionel Messi.
The Reggae Boyz - with man-of-the-match performances from central midfielders Rodolph Austin, the captain, and Je-Vaughn Watson in all their matches - have now continued at the Gold Cup, by topping Group B, with seven of maximum nine points, before moving into the knockout stage where they have come up big.
While Mexico will carry the favourites tag, the Boyz are viewed as deserving finalists and Miguel Herrera, the Mexico coach, knows it.
According to Herrera, Panama were unlucky to lose to Mexico in the semi-finals. He described Jamaica as worthy finalists, as they beat a "great rival in the United States and will be difficult" to beat.
Last Wednesday, Mexico advanced to the final with a 2-1 scoreline against Panama in the second semi-final, having been bailed out in successive matches with a penalty that should not have been awarded, both coming in the last minute.
In their quarter-final match against Costa Rica, it was a similar situation for Mexico, as they were given a last-minute penalty with the game tied 0-0 and Andres Guardado was deadly from the spot in securing the most meagre of wins.
The Mexicans hold the record for winning the tournament on the most occasions, with six titles from the 12 finals already contested.
The United States, who won the last championship, have five titles, while Canada won once.
Jamaica's previous best placing was joint third, in 1993. The team also made the semi-finals in 1998, when the Reggae Boyz created history as the country qualified for the World Cup Finals for the first time, in France.
This time around, the Jamaicans have been playing solid all competition, especially in defence, where they conceded in just two of their five matches - an opening game 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, when they gave up both goals in four minutes; then in last Wednesday's semis against the US.
Additionally, the Reggae Boyz are unbeaten and have won the most matches in the competition, claiming full points in four of five, with Giles Barnes and Garath McCleary scoring two apiece to account for half of the team's eight goals.
Jamaica also beat Canada, El Salvador and Haiti by a similar 1-0 margin.
Mexico, on the other hand, have won three matches, thumping Cuba 6-0 while recording their only impressive display in the first round, when they finished second in Group B, behind Trinidad and Tobago, on five points.
They drew 0-0 against Guatemala and 4-4 with the Trinidadians, before getting lucky in their knockout-stage contests.