Now or never for Boyz ... Jamaica face Nicaragua in do-or-die World Cup qualifier
THE implications will be massive when the Reggae Boyz face Nicaragua in their return-leg CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying football match in Managua tonight, beginning at 8:30 p.m.
The Jamaica men's senior national football team lost the first-leg match, their home tie, 3-2 at the National Stadium on Friday night.
That means, in very real and practical terms, they are facing a do-or-die situation.
That they must win, is only a small part of the equation. Goals too, are important, given the deep hole in which they have found themselves due to the number conceded on home territory in Kingston.
Having conceded three goals and lost by one, the Reggae Boyz must win by at least two clear goals to ensure a clear advantage, to qualify ahead of Nicaragua.
There are two other ways that Jamaica can qualify. They can win the match by a one-goal margin, but score more goals than Nicaragua (three) did in Jamaica. Otherwise, if they win 3-2, the away-goals rule would register as equal, and then FIFA would likely decide on a tiebreaker, which could be a play-off on neutral territory.
Any other permutation, such as a 1-0 or 2-1 Jamaica win, a draw or Jamaica losing means the end of the road as far as the nation's hopes of qualification for the 2018 World Cup Final in Russia is concerned.
That would be a massive blow to Jamaica's football programme. The men's senior national team, the Reggae Boyz, are the breadwinners, the life of the programme. Funding, much of which comes from sponsorships, as well as gate receipts, are almost entirely generated by this team.
A preliminary estimate by chairman of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Leighton McKnight, revealed a $700 million budget to get through the 2014 CONCACAF Finals (involving six qualifiers).
This is only the first round of qualifying. Next round would be 12 teams, four in three groups, which would mean six games, with three away. Then the CONCACAF Finals, six teams and 10 matches. Those costs, with time, would have escalated.
The earnings from World Cup qualification for 2014 would have been US$9 million, plus earnings in gate receipts. Also, calculate all at like rates for the period leading through to 2018 at today's costs, and you'll begin to get an indication of what's at stake.
However, Nicaragua stand in the way.
Jamaica, too, will again not be at full strength. Striker Giles Barnes will not play. Up to Sunday, captain Rodolph Austin had not yet arrived in Managua, as he went to Mexico looking to sort out a Danish visa for his next contract.
For Friday's game, influential midfielders Joel (Jobi) McAnuff and Garath McCleary, along with central defenders Wes Morgan and Jermaine Taylor, were not available. Head coach Winfried Sch‰fer pointed out that the wives of McAnuff and McCleary are expecting, while Taylor picked up an injury at the Golf Cup Finals in the US and has not recovered from surgery.
Morgan and Taylor's omission meant the back line was missing at least one of its regular leaders, for the first in a long, long time. Additionally, goalkeeper Dwayne Miller, who Sch‰fer had been moulding into a leader at the back during the Gold Cup, sat out in place of Andre Blake, who spent most of the last year on the sidelines with a knee injury.
The defence had been a strong point of the team through the Gold Cup and Copa America - tournaments where the team excelled in the past two months. They were disorganised against Nicaragua, with the usually reliable Kemar Lawrence caught out of position on two goals and handling the ball for a penalty that made the other.
Within the first 10 minutes, they were trailing 0-2.
"For the second leg, we can't start this way," said Sch‰fer. "We have to press for the ball, and we've to go to Nicaragua with the motivation to win.
"We have to believe we can change the match. I believe it," added the coach.
New Chelsea signing Michael Hector got a lot of attention and was booed unnecessarily too often by the local crowd. He will need to use the ball much quicker to complement the team's attempts to keep Nicaragua off the scoresheet, with goals in great demand.
Adrian Mariappa is more than capable and has the senior role not only at the back, but in the team. He proved his level with a goal Friday, and will be looking to balance at both ends.
Alvas Powell played the other full-back role. He turned his back on the country by walking out of the team at the Gold Cup, knowing fully well that the team
was already short by four players. The players, who had tried to influence him without success, were peeved. Sch‰fer, who along with other members of the team staff tried changing his decision, said he would not call him back, at least now.
Powell's inclusion, even in the squad, is mystifying, and one wonders if in any way it is impacting the team and those who have decided to stay away from it.
The coach himself had built the unit in his self-professed 'one for all, all for one' tag representing their modus operandi. Could the players have viewed their teammates' inclusion a betrayal of that trust. More on that later.
Still, in Jamaica, Nicaragua were stubborn and full of fight, making it difficult to score. Jamaica had plenty opportunities, and that should boost their confidence. Plus, it's hard to believe one team will be blessed with so much luck again, as Nicaragua and their outstanding goalie conjured every available means to keep the ball out of goal.
Darren Mattocks, who scored Friday, along with Simon Dawkins, Deshorn Brown and
others formulating the Reggae Boyz firepower, have a job on hand to save the country's football.
The implications are massive. The chance is at their feet. It's now or never.