Copa has given Boyz big lift, says McAnuff
VINA DEL MAR, Chile:
ENERGY DRINKS are aplenty these days. None, however, could have given Jamaica's footballers a lift like the one they got from Copa AmÈrica in Chile.
And what perfect timing.
On the back of the South American championship, which they exited after their final Group B encounter against football powerhouse Argentina at the Sausalito Stadium in ViÒa del Mar on Saturday night, the Reggae Boyz are now looking to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, with qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup to come immediately after.
That the Jamaicans lost that game 1-0 to the world number three - on an 11th-minute goal from Gonzalo Higuain - mattered little, similar 1-0 defeats against Uruguay and Paraguay, respective defending champions and runners-up for the tournament.
More than anything else, it is their overall play that has left the Boyz inspired for matches carrying more meaning.
"It should be massive," midfielder Joel (Jobi) McAnuff, a key figure in their Chilean exploits, noted of the confidence it adds for competition on their doorstep.
"From an overall point of view, I think if someone had said before the tournament that we'd narrowly lose, particularly the first game and the other two games 1-0, I don't think many people would have given us that chance.
"We've got to be pleased with the performance, particularly Uruguay and in the second half against Paraguay, and our whole performance tonight," he commented after the Argentina match. "We played against a top, top team, and we've given them a good run for their money. From that point of view, all credit to the players.
"We're not playing against any Mickey Mouse team, we're playing away from home. A lot of things are against us. Referees have been tough the whole tournament and we're taking it all on board, and from our point of view, it's a building block for Jamaican football to move forward with the Gold Cup coming up and the World Cup qualifiers. Hopefully, we'll do something really special," added McAnuff.
Jamaica went shoulder to shoulder against Uruguay and created enough chances to have won. In terms of ball possession, they played poorly in the first half in the Paraguay and Argentina matches but went on to dominate the final 20-30 minutes of each.
In all the matches, the Chilean fans at the Calvo y BascuÒ·n Stadium in Antofogasta, and Argentineans who packed the stadium to capacity at the Sausalito Stadium, cheered for Jamaica in appreciation of their good play.
"The key thing is the time together that we've had, which is tough to get at international level. You usually don't get that amount of time together," McAnuff said of their two-week Copa preparation.
"We need to keep the bulk of the squad together going into Gold Cup, have a good performance there, which we're confident of," he reasoned, ahead of their Gold Cup opener against Costa Rica on July 8.
At 33, McAnuff, is a driving force in the team as attested to by the vastly experienced coach, Winfried Sch‰fer.
"Jobi McAnuff, at 33 years, is a leader, has heart, and he's a very intelligent player. I hope his age goes down from 33 to 32; 32 to 31; 31 to 30. That'd be very good for us," said the 65-year-old German.
Asked what keeps him going at his age, McAnuff said his love for Jamaica.
"I love playing. I love playing for Jamaica first and foremost. It gives me a buzz every time I put on that jersey," said the Leyton Orient midfielder, who captained Reading in the English Premier League two seasons ago.