Showdown at the 'Office' - Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago clash again
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
CARIBBEAN arch-rivals Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will hunt bragging rights, as well as vital preparation and pointers for the upcoming regional championship, when they meet in a friendly international football matchup at the National Stadium at 6 p.m. today.
The game is the second part of a two-way challenge, the first part of which the Reggae Boyz won 3-1 in Trinidad and Tobago in August.
The margin of defeat says little in terms of the manner in which the Reggae Boyz handled the Soca Warriors on their home turf, as the Jamaicans - ranked 76th by FIFA - wasted numerous easy scoring opportunities and should have come away with at least a scoring tally not less than five.
Such dominance creates an impression that the Trinidadians, ranked 97th by FIFA, could be in for a walloping this afternoon, but football is not like that, and given the abundance of pride that will be at stake, there is every indication that the Eastern Caribbean team will be putting in a much greater effort for a matchup that is self-motivating.
"We know clashes between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago bring a lot of intensity and passion. We feel it too," Jamaica's head coach, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, told the media in a press briefing ahead of the clash.
"We all know the Trinidad and Tobago-Jamaica game is a big one, but we are, more importantly, looking to prepare for the Digicel Caribbean Cup and this game is another stepping stone."
He added: "Both the players and the technical staff recognise that this is an important game for many reasons. For us, the preparations for defending the title as Digicel Caribbean Cup champions is critical because it will be a major confidence booster.
"That confidence will take us into the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup will be excellent experience and exposure as we look to Brazil."
That is some real forward thinking. The certain qualifiers for the Gold Cup are actually the two finalists from the Digicel Caribbean Championship, which will be played next month.
The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil and qualification will begin next year, and both countries are in the embryonic stage of their preparation for that premier football championship.
In head-to-head contests, Jamaica have won 16, lost seven and drawn 10 of their 33 meetings.
Both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have qualified once for that tournament, and the head coaches of both teams were top class while representing their respective countries.
Their kind of talent is unusual and not quite evident among the groups they now handle.
However, in terms of world-level play, Jamaica are on a higher plain than Trinidad and Tobago now, given the quality and vast experience in their squad, because many of the regulars are far more exposed to competition against higher-level opposition. They have been exposed internationally for longer periods and also play professionally in the United States and Europe against some of the game's top players weekly.
Ricardo Fuller of English Premier League team Stoke City, as well as Major League Soccer duo Dane Richards, who has been in scoring form for New York Red Bulls lately; and Ryan Johnson, who has been scoring regularly for Jamaica in recent matches, head that list and will be expected to either score or provide chances. Rodolph Austin, who was red-carded in the Boyz 3-1 win in T&T, and Kansas City Wizards sweeper Shavar Thomas add to that number.
Make an impact
Besides the overseas-based players, the Jamaican team possesses several locals with sustained international exposure, like Jermaine Taylor, Richard Edwards, Adrian Reid, Eric Vernan and exciting Tivoli duo Navion Boyd and Keammar Daley, who can certainly make an impact.
The Trinidadian squad, on the other hand, consists of players far less experienced and exposed, even though they compete in a professional league back home.
Based on results alone, Latapy, it appears, has had a hard time nurturing his young squad, as barring a 3-0 home win against St Lucia last month and a 4-1 home victory over Antigua and Barbuda in July, they are finding it difficult to make decent results against Eastern Caribbean countries that they would have blown away in the past.
Last month alone the Trinidadians were quite busy, playing five games in which they went down 3-0 against Panama at Panama City, drew 0-0 against Belize in Belize, won 1-0 over Antigua and Barbuda away, nailed St Lucia 3-0 at home and drew 1-1 against Guyana in Guyana.
Jamaica, on the other hand, beat Costa Rica here 1-0 and lost 2-1 against Peru in Fort Lauderdale last month, beat T&T 3-1 in August, lost 2-0 to South Africa in a hastily arranged match in Germany, lost 2-1 against Argentina in Mar del Plata and beat Canada 1-0 in Kingston.
Clearly, and like most teams, the Trinidadians are weaker on the road. However, the last time they played here, they rallied from two goals down at half-time to draw 2-2. Latapy reckons it testifies to their likeness for the Jamaican turf, as opposed to their artificial surface back home, though it may well have been due to the inexperience filtered on to the field amid a proliferation of changes.
"The last time we played against the Jamaicans here they were leading us 2-0 and we came back to draw that game 2-2," Latapy said. "I think that most of my players prefer to play on the grass field compared to the artificial turf back home."
He also pointed to their recent activity, noting that they are improving as they build towards the Caribbean Championship Finals.
"We had a series of games recently and we are working on different aspects of our game and things seem to be coming together," Latapy said.
"I think that one of these teams should be the victors in the Digicel Cup, and so this game is more or less to feel out each other and to have an idea as to exactly where we are and how we play as a team."