Copa test for Boyz
JAMAICA will make history when they tackle defending champions Uruguay in their first ever match at the Copa America, South America's football championship, today at 4 p.m. (2 p.m. Jamaica time) at the Regional Stadium here.
An invitation by CONMEBOL, the ruling body for the sport on this continent, thrust Jamaica's men's senior national team into this lofty fixture as a guest, one of two from CONCACAF.
The Reggae Boyz fixture is the first of a double-header, that will be completed by beaten World Cup finalists Argentina and Paraguay, which starts at 6:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. Jamaica time).
Winfried Schafer, head coach of the Boyz who are ranked at 65, noted the enormity of the task, but expects a good showing from his team.
He said: "It's a very, very big tournament. It's one of the biggest tournaments and one of the most famous in football and everybody is motivated, everybody is highly motivated, not only the players, but the coaches too.
"We're not Argentina, we're not England, we're not Germany, we're a small island, but we have good players and we need a good team," he added, pointing towards his overall goal of building a squad to qualify for the next World Cup, in Russia 2018.
That qualification begins in September, but before then, Jamaica will get good opportunities to prepare, at next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be held in the United States and Canada.
The odds at stake
Talking about their chances here, Schafer noted: " Maybe we have a good match and the result is a draw and we can go in the quarter-finals."
That segment of the tournament is for the top eight. Twelve are contesting the first round, split evenly into three groups of four. The top two from each group, as well as the two best third-placed teams, will qualify for the quarters.
"It is open," said Schafer. "You saw World Cup 2010, Spain lost the first match and were champions; in 2014 Spain lost the first match and they were out.
"A good opening match gives confidence."
The Jamaicans have plenty of that, even though they are underdogs to match the all-time high tournament winners, with 15 titles, who are ranked eighth in the world. Jamaica, on the other hand, ranks 65th.
Both countries posted a win in warm-up matches recently. Uruguay, with a double from Edinson Cavani, put away Guatemala 5-1 last Saturday, while Jamaica had a 2-0 win over a local contingent this week, with goals from Kemar Lawrence and midfielder Joel (Jobi) McAnuff.
Uruguay's win was their sixth in eight unbeaten matches since the World Cup, at which their main striker, Luis Suarez, was suspended for biting. His suspension still stands and the Barcelona striker will not face Jamaica.
"He's a top, top player, there's no doubt about that," McAnuff expressed, about the South American team being weaker without Suarez. "You only have to see what Barcelona have achieved this year to see that. So, from our point of view Uruguay without Suarez is a weaker team.
"I'm sure that they have good players stepping in to fill the void and make up for his absence, but we're not talking anything for granted, the fact that he's not here, but we've to be aware of what they've got still," the former Reading captain said.
Cavani, now the main man, stirred up a bit of controversy when stating that Jamaica was from Africa, when asked about the Caribbean champions. He later apologised.
Schafer reflected on it in another light, saying: "When the player says that Jamaica is from Africa then you know we're underdogs. We can't lose. When we make a good result against Uruguay, everybody is going to say who is Jamaica, where is Jamaica, which is very good. That is what we want."
Point striker Darren Mattocks will lead the charge, with Garath McCleary, Giles Barnes and Simon Dawkins playing behind. Rodolph Austin, recovering from the flu, and McAnuff will play in centre midfield, with centre halves Wes Morgan and Edward Hector, along with full backs Lawrence and Adrian Mariappa the defence line. Big goalie Duwayne Kerr looks likely to keep ahead of Dwayne Miller and Ryan Thompson.
The coach seems satisfied with their preparation since arriving here two Fridays ago.
"I'm happy about our players," he said, while noting video study of their opponents. "We watched the match all together, Uruguay vs Morocco (which the South Americans won 1-0 in March), Uruguay against Guatemala.
"We make special assignments for the striker, the midfielder, the defenders and the players go in the match tomorrow and they know ... what they're doing in the match."