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Mammoth task - Jamaica face tough Mexico battle at the Azteca Stadium

Published:Wednesday | February 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Mexico's attacker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez.
Jamaica's Jermaine Johnson.

Kwesi Mugisa, Gleaner Writer

Reggae Boyz assistant coach, Alfredo Montesso, insists the national team will take a positive approach when they kick off final-round CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) with a tough assignment against regional kingpins Mexico at the imposing Estadio Azteca in Mexico City at 9:30 tonight.

"We all know the adversities we face at an Azteca Stadium filled with passionate supporters, but it is important that we do not allow Mexico to push us around, push the team back. Our plan is not to be camped out in our own half," Montesso told The Gleaner, from Mexico City yesterday.

Getting any positive result in the world-famous 100,000-seater venue, however, will be no easy task, and it would take a brave man to bet that the Boyz will be able to do so.

In the last 40 years, Mexico, the highest-ranked team in CONCACAF and 15th in the world, have lost just one WCQ match at the Azteca and that was to Costa Rica in 2001. A quick glance at the national team's away record against the Mexicans, in particular, offers very little, if any, encouragement. In nine games against El Tri on Mexican soil, the Boyz have not only failed to claim a single point, but have lost by at least a three-goal margin on eight of those occasions.

The exception was a 2-1 loss during the 1998 qualification campaign.

That was the only WCQ game in which Jamaica scored against Mexico at the Azteca.

They also scored against the hosts during a 6-1 Gold Cup semi-final beating in 1993.

And, the ratio of 43 goals conceded as against two scored indicates the region has been far from a happy hunting ground for the Reggae Boyz.

As far as tonight's game goes, however, Montesso believes going for an elusive win is the team's best chance of getting a positive result.

"We always say to the team, 'Be positive.' We have to stay focused and go with our plan if we are to have a good performance. We have to come here and respect Mexico, but we also have to come here to win the game.

"We are looking for victory all the time; once you target that, maybe you leave with a point, but that has to be the approach. We have to keep the ball. Keeping possession will be important and we cannot afford to be careless with our passes," he added.

In addition to the return of veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, seven players who did not feature in the last round of competition have been added to a squad that was deemed by many to look lightweight in the previous round. The alterations, it is hoped, will make a difference in the team's push for a spot in Brazil.

Joining the ranks are defender Damion Stewart, midfielders Omar Daley, Jermaine Johnson, Marvin Elliot, Jobi McAnuff and forwards Garath McCleary and Theo Robinson.

McCleary and McAnuff, it is hoped, will add quality to the squad as members of English Premier League team Reading. The addition of the players and lack of playing time ahead of the fixture have raised several red flags in regard to team chemistry.

"The spirit of the team was very high after our first session. We had a quality session and we are looking forward to a good performance," Montesso said.

Uphill battle

But, by all indications, the team is set for an uphill battle at the high-altitude Mexican fortress, against generally inhospitable hosts, who have exhibited white-hot form in the CONCACAF WCQ campaign so far.

The Mexicans hardly broke sweat in qualifying for the semi-final round, cruising to a perfect record with six straight wins to dominate Group B. In addition to finishing eight points clear of second-place Costa Rica, El Tri scored the most goals in the entire round (15) and conceded the joint least, two, tied along with Panama.

The Jamaicans finished second in Group A behind the United States, advancing on goal difference over Guatemala after both teams finished with 10 points.

In Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez of Manchester United, and Gio dos Santos of Mallorca and Andres Guardado of Valencia, who had a strong game against Barcelona on the weekend, the Mexicans boast arguably the best attacking line-up in the region and will take some stopping. However, that being said, the Mexicans have not overwhelmed their opponents at home in the last round, with respective 3-1, 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Guyana, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Jamaica vs Mexico at the Azteca Stadium

07/05/1965 0-8 WCQ

13/04/1972 0-4 Olympics gq

22/07/1993 1-6 Gold Cup Sf

16/10/1996 1-2 WCQ

13/04/1997 0-6 WCQ

25/03/2001 0-4 WCQ

20/07/2003 0-5 Gold Cup Qf

20/07/2003 0-5 Gold Cup Qf

06/09/2008 0-3 WCQ