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Reggae Boyz look for positive start against Grenada

Published:Monday | June 6, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sports

TORRANCE, California:

FOR THE CONCACAF Gold Cup, Jamaica's Reggae Boyz are aiming for a better finish than their last outing.

That should be easy, considering that they made a first-round exit at the 2009 edition.

With Grenada, Guatemala and Honduras on the cards this time and two to qualify for the quarter-finals, the Jamaicans are again brimming with the expectation of advancing past the group stage.

The top two third-placed teams will also advance from the 12 nation first round.

They will take an initial sample of their chances in a promising fixture against Grenada at the Home Depot Centre today at 6 p.m. (8 p.m. Jamaica time) quite optimistic that they can take the maximum for a perfect start.

"The main focus is to get three points from this game," said Theodore Whitmore, head coach of the Jamaica team, whose match will precede the 8 p.m. (10 p.m. Jamaica time) feature between Guatemala and Honduras.

Jamaica will play other first round encounters against Guatemala in Florida (June 10) and then against Honduras in New Jersey (June 13).

"The first game can determine how far you go in the tournament, so from the moment we stepped into LA we have been concentrating on the first game," Whitmore said.

The Boyz arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, following a nine-day camp in football mecca Brazil.

With the exception of four players, the other members of the 20-man squad underwent intense preparation in Brazil, where they also played two practice matches against top-flight clubs Palmeiras and Santos.

Despite losing both - 2-0 to Palmeiras and 2-1 against the latter - Whitmore is expressing pleasure at his teams gains, confident it has sharpened them enough to rise above the Grenadian challenge.

"I'm 100 per cent satisfied at the moment," he said ahead of their final training session yesterday evening.

"We have been doing some work from Brazil and after arriving here and continuing to do well, I don't see how we can't come away from this first encounter with three points," he remarked.

The Grenadians are, in fact, the last team Jamaica faced in a tournament, when they won the Digicel Caribbean Cup championship game on a 2-1 result in Martinique last December, when Troy Smith netted an injury-time winner off Rudolph Austin's cross to seal a memorable win.

Austin to power the team

Smith is not among the group, but so is Austin, who is expected to power the team from midfield, while functioning in a central role with Jason Morrison.

It will be heartening for Whitmore that Morrison scored in the team's last competitive game, when they earned a decent result against Santos.

However, the Jamaica coach's main focal point for goals will go through Ryan Johnson, Luton Shelton and Dane Richards, who have skill, pace and enough power to worry the Grenadians.

Prior to the tournament Omar Cummings, another striker who scored against Grenada in their finals encounter, would have been key among Whitmore's plans but injury has eliminated his threat.

For other reasons, two other players - defenders Ian Goodison and Tyrone Marshall - are missing from their coach's initial plan.

With regulars central defenders Shavar Thomas (regular captain) and Jermaine Taylor on offer, along with Dicoy Williams, Whitmore does not foresee any major problems replacing the veteran duo against a team ranked 43 places below them at 98 on the FIFA world rankings.

Ironically, he thinks there is more to gain via the absence of the opposing team's top players, striker Kithson Bain and towering midfield captain who represents New England Revolution in the US Major League Soccer, Shalrie Joseph.

Propping up the team are speedy and diminutive flank midfielders Demar Phillips and Eric Vernan.

The latter's former teammate at local premier league club Portmore United, Anthony Modeste, will provide the backbone of the Grenadian challenge, along with his brother, Patrick.

Whitmore thinks it will be a hard game.

"It is going to be a tough game knowing that we are playing against a Caribbean team, but we have been preparing and we are ready for the challenge," he pointed out.

Key to that aspiration is the desire for a start that will pave the wave for a campaign that will better the last.

"We have kept a lot of meetings from we were in Brazil, even up to Saturday evening's training session (here) and it is something we keep emphasising, as the last time we did well in this tournament was in 1993 and 1998," Whitmore reminisced. "So this year we really want to make our mark in the Gold Cup."