Reggae Boyz shooting to fortify ‘The Office’
FOOTBALL: CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier vs Costa Rica
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz will be aiming to make the National Stadium their fortress tonight as they seek to beat Costa Rica and lift their chances of advancing to the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.
The Group Two CONCACAF fourth round battle will kick off at 7 o'clock at the venue which was called ‘The Office’ during the journey to France 98 campaign because the Boyz couldn’t lose there during the qualification campaign.
In recent matches the venue has not been as impregnable as in the past. The Boyz lost 0-2 against Panama on November 13 and 2-3 on September 4 last year against Nicaragua in their last outings there.
The Panama game was the opening match in this four-team semi-final round qualification. Both countries are now locked on three points after two matches.
Jamaica rebounded and won their second game, on the road — 1-0 in Port-Au-Prince.
Costa Rica have a perfect record in the group. They had a 1-0 home win over the Haitians and a 2-1 away success at Panama City, victories that have given them group leadership with maximum six points.
Head coach, Winfried Schäfer, views the qualification as a step by step process.
“Only focus is Costa Rica, Costa Rica, Costa Rica,” he said.
As they’ve branded their campaign the ‘Road to Russia’, Schäfer said along the route “we’ve many stones”.
Continuing, he theorised: “We can stop or build from the stone the bridge to Russia. Many, many stones are very, very heavy and for this we need the support.
“… When we win then the next step (to the final round) is we’ve to work in Costa Rica too,” he said of next Tuesday’s return fixture.
“It’s the same,” he said. "Before we talk about Russia we’ve to win on Friday. We’ve to win against Costa Rica and against Panama, it’s step by step, we’ve to build.”
“It’s gonna be vital in terms of progressing through this group,” key midfielder Jobi McAnuff said about the Boyz transforming their play on home territory. “The home games are very, very important.
“We’re still disappointed with the last two we’ve had and we need to make sure we transfer the away performances back here at The Office and make sure we win the game.”
This is the third of six matches this round and only two will qualify to the final six, the CONCACAF Hexagonal, that ultimately decides the three or four World Cup qualifiers.
“Every game is crucial, especially when it’s in a tight little group like this,” McAnuff pointed out. “There’s only four teams and it’s important not to lose, because then you lose too much ground. So if we win at home that would give us a good platform to go to the away leg and try and get another result over there.”
McAnuff represents one of Schäfer’s key materials, given his leadership role on the pitch and the type of skill that saw him weave through the heart of the Costa Rica team with a dribble from half-line before scoring from inside the penalty box, when the teams last met.
That was a 2-2 result at the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer, when Jamaica were on a high and made a first-time appearance in the final.
Before that, the teams also drew 1-1 at the National Stadium in World Cup qualification when Schäfer had just arrived and sprang crowd favourite Jermain “Tuffy” Anderson on to the pitch for a late equaliser.
“Tuffy” is not part of this group, but practically everybody from the Gold Cup final appearance remains, with the exception of captain Rodolph Austin and striker Giles Barnes.
Austin, just recovering from injury, may play the return match.
In his absence Adrian Mariappa will captain the team, playing in defence alongside Wes Morgan, the captain of much-storied English Premiership leaders Leicester City, who has promised to “give his all” for the Boyz.
Their presence, along with Je-Vaughn Watson, Garath McCleary, Michael Hector, Simon Dawkins and others has strengthened Schäfer’s belief that they can get a good result at home.
“The last time we lost at home - the first match the players were not ready for Nicaragua and the last match the team was not ready for the situation, one day before,” he said of pay disputes ahead of the game. “But now I think the team is ready.
“They (Costa Rica) are a very good team, they’ve very good players,” he pointed out. “We played two times — 1-1, 2-2 and we’ve to watch what we’re doing at home. All players want to be in Russia.”
“Very positive,” is how McAnuff labelled their attitude. “We put up a very good performance the last time we played them in the Gold Cup and to be honest they were lucky to come away with a draw. We finished very strongly and they will be wary of what we’ve got to offer.”