Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Oral Tracey: Bad home results could be fatal

Published:Tuesday | March 29, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer Jamaica's Joel 'Jobi' McAnuff (right) dribbles by Costa Rica's Christian Gamboa at the National Stadium on Friday night during their CONCACAF Semi-final Round World Cup Qualifying footballmatch. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

Three games played, two defeats and one draw. Three goals for and six against. One point from a possible nine.

That is the shambolic home record of the Reggae Boyz so far in the Russia 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

As it is right now, head coach Winfried Sch‰fer and the Boyz have one home game remaining in this semi-final round against Haiti and will therefore have to do what they have never done before: win in either Costa Rica and or Panama to advance to the final round.

That is the depth of the hole that the Boyz have dug for themselves, and having attended the post game press conference after the disappointing home result against Costa Rica on Friday, I found the n‰ivety of coach Sch‰fer and senior player Jobi McAnuff startling.

The first thing the coach said was the one-all result was OK. I asked the coach OK for who, for Costa Rica, not for Jamaica?

The German muffled an inaudible response.

HOME GAMES

I then posited to the coach and the player that the problem of the team was not fundamentally their inability to convert more of their chances as they were both saying, but more in the fact that in three home games for the Russia 2018 campaign, Jamaica conceded an average of two goals per game, while scoring an average of one goal per game, and that kind of home form will not qualify us for the World Cup.

Again, their responses were unclear.

They then both went on to point out that Costa Rica is a quality team and it was a tough game, but they are confident of going to Costa Rica and getting a win.

The mindset of the coach and the player, as exhibited at that press conference, points to a dangerous nonchalance as it relates to the importance of maximising home advantage, while conversely thinking that they can always get positive results on the road.

One got the distinct impression in that post-match exchange from the tone and body language of coach Sch‰fer and McAnuff that they much prefer playing away from Jamaica and could not wait to leave.

Under the circumstances, it would be tempting to empathise with their n‰ivety at trying to redefine not just football logic, but general and universal sport logic of always seeking to maximise home advantage. After all, they do have a 100 per cent away record, with two wins from two games and maximum six points to start the campaign.

This team has conspicuously played all its warm-up games and tournaments outside of their home stadium.

For the past two years, the Reggae Boyz have played only three games inside the national stadium, and those are the three World Cup qualifiers.

So in a sense, it could be argued that this team is prepared as an 'away team'.

COMPETITION INTENSIFIES

That is absolutely risky business. Beating Haiti and Nicaragua on the road is one thing, but as the competition intensifies, this strategy will backfire and could prove fatal for the campaign.

The excuse put forward by the Jamaica Football Federation that playing friendly games at home is not financially viable, thus the option to prepare the team as a road team is as myopic as it gets.

This method of preparation was a foolhardy mistake that will come back to haunt us.

Those five of a possible six points dropped at home in this semi-final round will more than likely prove to be our undoing in this 'Group of Death'.

It is such a startling contrast, what is happening now, and the only successful senior men's World Cup campaign in our football history, 1998, when the then RenÈ Simoes-coached Boyz not only never lost a single game at home for the entire campaign, but they never conceded a single goal in what was then dubbed 'The Office'.

Let us say the Boyz escape and get to the final round in this campaign, which will obviously be more competitive, would they still pursue this unorthodox strategy of being an away team?

My genuine fear at this point is that we will never know the answer to that question because we might not make it to that final round because of this facile and shortsighted strategy.