Boyz have come of age
THE Boyz have really come of age. That's one of the clearest signals from Jamaica's historic 2-1 semi-final win over the United States of America (USA) in their CONCACAF Gold Cup encounter at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday night.
The victory was Jamaica's first against the US on American soil and made them the first Caribbean team to qualify for the final of the Gold Cup, the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean championship in its 13th staging.
One of the key players in the landmark achievement, midfielder Joel 'Jobi' McAnuff, says Jamaica needs to ensure continued growth of its stature in international football.
"We want to make sure this is something moving forward for Jamaica. We're no longer underdogs when it comes to playing against the USA. We've got a lot to be proud of and a lot to fear for the other countries when they come up against us," McAnuff said.
Only last year, the Reggae Boyz suffered an 8-0 thumping at the hands of France just ahead of the World Cup Finals. Things were a lot different then, with head coach Winfried Schäfer having to chop and change squads amid some crazy travelling schedules that denied their team rest, as well as its best players on a four-match tour. Three of the results were close, but the 8-0 stood out.
In his own time, Schäfer has gone about moulding a team of inner strength, a team of character, with players willing to fight for each other and their country.
By the Caribbean Cup last year, the signs of growth were evident and Jamaica went on to crown themselves champions.
Then came a couple of practice matches, with the Reggae Boyz winning 3-0 and 2-1 over Cuba and Venezuela, respectively.
If no one had been noticing, Schäfer's graft emerged with greater definition at the Copa America, the South American championship, in June when Jamaica lost 1-0 in three group matches against Uruguay, Paraguay, and world number one Argentina, which was led by the world's best player, Lionel Messi. It wasn't just the scores either, but the way the team handled itself, drawing encores and rapturous applause from the appreciative football-cultured South Americans.
They came to the Gold Cup with a best-ever finish of third, a placing earned in 1993 when they made one of two semi-final appearances. The 1998 Boyz who made first-time Jamaica qualification to the World Cup at France also made top four.
Experts in the US predicted that Jamaica would only get two points and elimination at the group stage. The Boyz won their group with seven of the maximum nine points, and as they got to the semis, McAnuff said part of their growing reputation hinged on improving their Gold Cup best.
"We spoke to coach Warren Barrett the night before, and he said 'No, we've finished third before'. So we were all aware of it as a team out there and ... that's been driving us on, and I think it helped us get us through it today," said McAnuff. "I think you saw a real effort from everybody. That was motivating us.
"It's just a real togetherness," the midfielder continued. "Throughout the tournament there've been a few ups and downs, but we've used everything to motivate us trying to turn some negative situations into positives ones, and I think you've seen that out on the pitch, and I think we've just got to continue to do that."
Highlighting their toughness and growth, McAnuff pointed to the period after half-time when they withstood constant US pressure.
"That was key, and I think having that bit of experience in the squad, players who have been through (those) scenarios before, we knew we had to get through that next 10, 15 minutes conceding. We did it with a mixture of good defending and a bit of luck and a bit of woodwork here and there ... but when you're up against it, like we were, it was not just 11 players out there today, there were 68,000 fans, and the Boyz stood up to it well, and we're just delighted to be in the final."
That game takes place on Sunday in Philadelphia against Mexico, the six-time champions.