National technical director 'Bora' Milutinovic (centre) gives instructions to Kavin Bryan (second right) during a practice game at Brancourt recently. - Junior Dowie/Staff Photographer
Howard Walker, Staff Reporter
THE LAST time Jamaica played in any form of World Cup, it was in 2001 in Argentina. Six years on, another Under-20 team will be pushing for a berth, this time at the 2007 World Cup in Canada.
The Under-20 team will compete in Group B of the CONCACAF Under-20 qualifiers along with Costa Rica, St. Kitts and Nevis and hosts Mexico from February 21-25.
Under-20 coach Dr Dean Weatherly is quietly confident this team has a great chance of qualifying but would be more confident if the team had more international games under its belt.
Said Weatherly: "In terms of technical ability, this team is a better team and much faster than the previous team. The previous team's advantage was its international experience.
"A lot of them came from the Under-17 team that had qualified for the (1999) Under-17 World Cup and had played about 30 to 40 games. They went to Brazil and the United States and played a lot of international games," he said.
"Right now we are going in with about five games under our belts. If we had that type of preparation, I would just write it down for July in Canada," said Weatherly.
Jamaica progressed to the 2007 CONCACAF Under-20 Final Round Group B after eliminating Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean play-off series 2-1 on aggregate.
Courtesy of a double strike from Joel Grant, the young Reggae Boyz defeated Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) 2-0 in Kingston before losing the return leg 1-0 in Marabella in December.
In the first round Caribbean qualifiers, Jamaica, playing in Group G in Haiti, defeated the Netherlands Antilles and Bermuda 2-0 and 3-1, respectively before playing to a 1-1 draw with hosts Haiti to finish second on goal difference.
To date, the Under-20s have been playing a series of local clubs as part of their preparations. They played Tafari Lions twice, winning 5-0 and drew the other 1-1; beat Seba 4-1, Waterhouse 3-1 and lost 1-0 and 3-2 to Reno and Village, respectively.
In 2001, the team comprised Allien Whittaker, Sheldon Battiste, brothers Shavar and Alex Thomas, Fabian Blake, Shane Stevens, Sean Fraser, Keith Kelly, Omar Daley, Fabian Dawkins, Christopher Nicholas, Craig Gordon, Adam Wallace, Kevon Harris, Wolry Wolfe, Khari Stephenson, Damion Williams and Allan Reid.
This current crop includes three overseas-based players in Watford striker Joel Grant and midfielders Joel Senior of Howard University and San Diego State's Omar Persad.
The local-based players include captain Ricardo Cousins, Keammar Daley, Eric Vernon, Tremaine Stewart, James Thomas, Duwayne Kerr, Darion McNain, Nicholas Beckett, Montrose Phinns, Norman Bailey, Alonzo Adlam, Andre Fagan, Ja-ir Gooden, Kelsio Cousins, Jermaine Allen, Renae Lloyd, Roy Forbes, Dwayne Miller, Andre Campbell, Michael Binns, Phillip Peddie, Dwayne Smith, Christopher Powell, Troy Smith, Errol Reid, Edward Campbell, Richard Wilson, Jamie Ramsey, Delano Rankine and Namar Tummings.
"They are working very hard and are very disciplined where instructions are concerned. This (discipline) is what most of our teams don't have naturally. I don't mean rude behaviour, I mean discipline to carry out the instructions and maintain the game plan. This is where all our teams fall down. But this one has it," said Weatherly.
"The preparation is going well. The guys are really receptive to the training and they are eager to learn. From when we started in last year November, they have come on in leaps and bounds and they are moulding together as a formidable unit."
According to Weatherly, the Under-20 players have been in camp at the Youth Academy and the whole living situation, the moving together as a unit, has gelled the players into one.
Said Weatherly: "The influence of the community there is so supportive and they understand what the boys are there for. Even the school on a whole when they go to classes. That makes them come together and bond together.
"This camp has brought that out in them. Living together and everything. They understand each other more and the gelling process in working very well. They play a little table tennis, dominoes and bounce a little basketball. It's not football, football, football. In the evening they have computer classes.
"Everybody is there learning something. Right now, I am pleased with where we are and we are fine-tuning some little areas," noted Weatherly.
Skipper Cousins endorses his coach's sentiments about the players bonding and thinks the camp is working wonders.
"It is coming on because the team is spending time together to get to know each other more and the chemistry is building," Cousins told The Gleaner after he was substituted in a practice game with the Olympic team at Brancourt..
"After training, we play games and talk and it gets easier on the field. We play a lot of team games and fun games.
"I haven't seen the opponents but we have an idea what they are coming with. To qualify, out of 10, I would give ourselves a seven. The hard work has been done already, we just have to do it on the field."
Weatherly was equally as confident as his skipper.
"From what I saw of the other group, although it is the other group, you can judge where you are and Jamaica have a very good chance of qualifying," he said.
"It reminds me of the days when we played the Under-17s at Jarrett Park. Nobody expected us to beat those two teams and from what I have seen and have been speaking to some friends on the west coast who have seen Costa Rica and Mexico, they say if we just put a little bit more into it we should be able to give ourselves a good chance."
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Jackie Walters ... former U-17 and U-20 coach. - FILE
We can do it - Walters
Audley Boyd, Assistant Sport Editor
JAMAICA VS COSTA RICA, Saturday, February 21 in Culiacn, Sinaloa, Mexico. Key that one in: d.e.c.i.s.i.v.e. m.a.t.c.h. f.o.r. t.h.e. u.n.d.e.r.-2.0. b.o.y.z.
A man who has made a career of dealing with juvenile football talent in this country, Patrick 'Jackie' Walters, holds that view.
It's a bit more than shuffling a deck of cards. But in a group with hosts Mexico and minnows St. Kitts and Nevis, and two to qualify for the World Cup finals, success will be made with what is essentially that trump card.
"It's critical that we win against Costa Rica," Walters said of Jamaica's first-up opponents. "Beating Costa Rica will give us an excellent chance of qualifying for the World Cup."
Besides that match next Saturday being the first in the four-team group, Mexico appear a cinch not only because they are hosts but also strength. St. Kitts look like the 'beating stick' so the Boyz-Ticos clash is the match that most likely will decide the other qualifier.
Walters, head coach of the only Under-17 and Under-20 Jamaica teams that ever played in World Cups, believes they have a "fair chance" but must impose their personality in the three crucial clashes on Mexican soil.
"Going to Mexico, our chances are fair. We can do it," said Walters while watching a match between the youngsters and a senior team mixed with Under-23 players at Brancourt playing field in Clarendon last week.
"If you look at the game, they are very quick to the ball. They are very determined and I think Dean Weatherly is doing a very good job with them and I think they stand a reasonably good chance of qualifying.
"The question is going to the tournament and realising what is required of them not only as a team but as individuals and they must understand that when they go on to the field it's critical that they respond in a very positive way and play the kind of football they are capable of and don't hold back," Walters said.
In the practice match, the Under-20s were nippy, moved the ball swiftly but had problems maintaining fluidity when they moved into the middle of the ballpark. Given the problems faced against more experienced 'ballers, Walters thought it was a good exercise.
"Playing against a senior team with a couple of the Under-23 team, it clearly presents a challenge. This will reflect more the kind of opposition they are going to be playing against in Mexico and I have no doubts the coach Weatherly is taking his notes. I think this is something he will address," Walters stated confidently about alterations his right-hand man and assistant coach at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups, Weatherly, will make to improve their attacking potential.
Comparatively though, Walters believes the previous Under-20 Boyz were better through exposure and experience.
"The previous Under-20 team was a better one, the maturity level was much higher."
He added: "You must remember we had people like Shavar (Thomas) and Kemo (Christopher Nicholas) who were very good players.
"That Under-20 team also had five to six players who had the experience of qualifying for the Under-17 World Cup and playing in the World Cup as well. So that in itself there is a vast amount of experience, and they had far more international exposure."
Actually, the Under-20 team that qualified for the tough Buenos Aires group at the 2001 championships had eight players who had participated in the Under-17 World Cup two years earlier in Dunedin, New Zealand.
From Jamaica's group, Argentina won and Egypt (with whom Jamaica drew 0-0) ended third.
JAMAICA vs Costa Rica, Mexico vs St. Kitts & Nevis
Costa Rica vs St. Kitts & Nevis, Mexico vs JAMAICA
St. Kitts & Nevis vs JAMAICA, Mexico vs Costa Rica