Schäfer: Caribbean Cup very important
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sports
FOR the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Championship, Jamaica's target is clear: Qualify for the Gold Cup.
With the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia their goal, practically everything going forward hinges on the men's national senior team finishing among the top rung in the regional tournament it will host in Montego Bay from November 10-17.
"It's very important. It's the next step to the World Cup 2018. Money comes when we win. We can play in the Gold Cup. It's very important," noted Reggae Boyz head coach Winfried Schäfer.
Along with the hosts, who gained an automatic spot in the Finals, seven countries qualified for the Caribbean Cup Finals. Defending champions Cuba head the list, which is complemented by Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, Haiti, French Guiana, Martinique, and Curaçao.
World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) is a step-by-step process, and the next stage after the regional springboard is the Gold Cup, CONCACAF's flagship tournament. The leading quartet from the Caribbean Cup is guaranteed spots in next year's Gold Cup, which brings together the marquée teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean such as Mexico, the United States, and now Costa Rica, which excelled at the Brazil World Cup.
The fifth-placed team from the Caribbean also gets a chance to qualify for the Gold Cup - in a home-and-away play-off game against the fifth-placed team from the Unión Centro Americana de Fútbol (UNCAF).
Jamaica failed to make it last time.
This time, at the decisive stage, the Reggae Boyz will play alongside Haiti (November 11), Martinique (13th), and Antigua and Barbuda (15th) in Group B of the Caribbean Cup. They will contest the group stage in a round-robin format, with the winners moving straight into the November 17 championship match and the runners-up playing for third.
there is money
Glory apart, there is money. But the route to the latter and opportunities for more goes through the former, with the Caribbean's top brass not only assured spots in the Gold Cup, but other cash and quality-rich tournaments to be held next year and in 2016.
Those include the 2015 Copa América, the tournament that decides the champion of South America, which includes the game's powerhouses Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, who combined, have won the World Cup nine times.
For the 2015 Copa América - to be held in Chile - Jamaica have been invited to participate as a special guest.
For 2016, it could get better. That year marks the centenary of CONMEBOL, the South American football association. As part of its celebrations, they will host a championship with a special flavour as they will twin it with the CONCACAF Gold Cup for one huge championship, the Centennial Cup America. It will be staged during the summer in the United States, marking the first occasion that the South American championship will be staged outside that region.
Significantly, the event is officially part of the FIFA calendar, which means the countries will have the chance to pull their top players. That is around the time when Jamaica will be involved in 2018 WCQ. The experience of playing against opposition of that quality is priceless.
"You saw last year our team was not in the Gold Cup," Schäfer argued. "All the teams - Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, Panama - were in the Gold Cup, and after (the competition) we had to play against these teams.
"This tournament is very important for our image, for our confidence, and for the Gold Cup. We can learn when we play in the Gold Cup," Schäfer reiterated.
"I'm sure we can win the Caribbean Cup, but it's very, very difficult," Schafer emphasised.
"Look at Brazil at home in the World Cup. We cannot think that we're at home and will win the Caribbean Cup. No. We have to work very hard, not from today, but yesterday," he said, magnifying the vigilance that will be required to at least hit the target with a Gold Cup placing.