Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
THE NATION will be rooting for victory when the Reggae Boyz tackle Panama in a CONCACAF Final World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) football match at the National Stadium this evening, beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Hopes for success have been fuelled by last month's historic 0-0 result against Mexico, the first time Jamaica ever earned a point in WCQ against the powerful Mexicans at its treacherous high-altitude Azteca Stadium.
Jamaica's head coach, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore, says he is aware of the expectations owing to the Mexico result, but it doesn't ease the pressure of winning.
"I don't think the result in Mexico will ease the pressure because there will be added pressure on us as everyone is expecting us to ... win the game on Friday," he said.
The result left Jamaica with a point from first-round action, the same as Panama and two more of the other six teams battling for a spot in next summer's FIFA World Cup Finals, which will be staged in Brazil. Costa Rica and Mexico also have a point while Honduras, which beat the United States 2-1, leads the hexagonal standings with three points. The US has none.
Half the countries will automatically qualify for Brazil while a fourth will play off with the top team from the Oceania region - which includes New Zealand - for another spot.
All the CONCACAF finalists will play 10 matches - five in their country and as many away - and having achieved an unexpected, yet morale-boosting start on the road, the Reggae Boyz and their compatriots are full of confidence for this fixture at home because they view the task of winning as less arduous.
Given the competitive nature of the series, Jamaica Football Federation president Captain Horace Burrell said it was important to win tonight's battle against Panama.
"In this hexagonal round, it is very important to secure the home points, and I am hoping that our players will continue with the same attitude that they have demonstrated in training, and they will take this into the game and secure the three points for Jamaica," he said, echoing the sentiments of a nation also rooting for victory over Panama.