Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Reggae Boyz seek big result against Argentina

Published:Saturday | June 20, 2015 | 6:00 AM
Two of Argentina's megastars Angel Di Maria (left) and Lionel Messi at a training session in La Serena, Chile, yesterday.
Jamaica's Darren Mattocks controls the ball during a training session in Antofagasta, Chile.
Jamaica's captain Rodolph Austin in action against Uruguay last Saturday.
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VINA DEL MAR, Chile:

IN 2010 when Jamaica lost 2-1 to Argentina in Mar del Plata, a lot of people scoffed at the result.

They said the scoreline wasn't a true reflection of the gap in quality between the two countries.

Largely, that was because the Argentina team, coached then by the legendary Diego Maradona, lacked the country's biggest players, arguing that striker Martin Palermo was one of the team's only real stars.

Ironically, the Jamaica team also lacked most of its stars, as the squad was largely local-based.

Even though it was a friendly, 2-1 was a big result for Jamaica.

When they meet this evening at the Sausalito stadium at 6:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. Jamaica time), it will be a different kettle of fish.

Gone are the coaches, Maradona and Theodore Whitmore. Gone are the goalscorers, Ryan Johnson, who netted at the 46th minute for the Reggae Boyz and Argentina's Palermo (77th) and defender Ignacion Canuto (90+), who won the match at the death.

The countries, this time in their third meeting, are battling in a serious championship - the Copa America - in which Argentina rank among the favourites.

Lionel Messi, the world's best footballer and a man atop his game, having recently won the La Liga, Copa del Rey and European Champions League with Barcelona, will be leading the Argentina team with its biggest stars.

Numbered among them are Carlos Tevez, the Juventus striker, Manchester United's Angel di Maria, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Paris St Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Together, they form arguably the best attacking unit in world football and are expected to put the Jamaica defence to the test.

"It's the second-best team in the world after Germany and they have very, very good players - Lionel Messi, di Maria (Angel), Mascherano (Javier), Aguero, it's a highlight for everybody," Jamaica's head coach Winfried Schafer said.

Messi, a skilled baller in all aspects, whether it be dribbling, passing or scoring, makes the match a most interesting prospect for the Reggae Boyz, who otherwise than being afforded guest status in this championship, might not have had the opportunity at this time to tackle the left-footed genius and the world football giants, outside the World Cup stage.

That happened once, in France 1998, when Argentina whipped Jamaica 5-0 with ace striker Gabriel Batistuta getting a hat-trick.

The Reggae Boyz this time, barring a player or two, are also boasting their strongest unit. Unlike their opponents Jamaica's line-up is not as glitsy. However, most are professionals who play in Europe and North America, particularly the British Premier and Championship division, as well as the United States' MLS.

They are not short on ability and with confidence, have made a statement in this championship for CONCACAF and mainly, Caribbean football, with some strong showings against defending champions Uruguay and Paraguay.

Matching Uruguay was exceptional for the 65th-ranked Boyz, as they went shoulder to shoulder with the world number eights and created enough chances to have won, only to lose 1-0.

Paraguay were fast out of the blocks and stifled the Boyz for much of the first hour, until the Jamaicans made changes and started building from the back and possessing the ball better to generate good pressure. Still, they couldn't tie the game after conceding from goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr's first-half blunder.

Barring that blunder, the goalkeeper has been solid through the championship, displaying great goal area dominance while making key saves. Schafer, however, indicated he might rest the custodian and test either Dwayne Miller or Ryan Thompson, in preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup that will follow almost immediately after Copa.

Central midfielders Rodolph Austin, the team's bedrock and captain and veteran Joel (Jobi) McIntosh, have been key in stabilising and balancing the team's play both ways. Along with Je-Veughn Watson, they will again be key to the team's plan of shutting down Messi & Co.

Much of those responsibilities will also fall on the wide midfielders and defenders, with key roles also expected from Garath McLeary and possibly Simon Dawkins or Lance Laing, who has replaced him in the earlier matches.

Giles Barnes, Darren Mattocks and Deshorn Brown have all got chances to score while playing the lead role upfront. It is expected that at least one could get the chance again, and with a special role of upsetting Argentina's plan.

"These matches are important for our standing outside of Jamaica, outside of the Caribbean," Schafer said. "Now we can make a new mark."