Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor -Sport
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA:
TOTAL TEAMWORK, fuelled by a constant supply of optimism and discipline, are key components of Jamaica's strategy for a much-needed victory in tonight's CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying football match against Panama.
Bottom of the hexagonal home and away play-off series with only two points after six matches, Jamaica - having bolstered its squad - need to start winning in order to maintain faint hopes of qualifying for next year's finals in Brazil.
Counting the 9 p.m. encounter at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium here later, Jamaica have four remaining games.
"Everybody knows this game is our key match," said newly appointed head coach German Winfried Schafer said yesterday, shortly after the team's arrival in this Central American country.
"The ambition is for three points. It's not easy, but I'm sure if everybody gives 100 per cent we can win. I met my players in England and the United States and talked to them. Confidence is important, discipline on the field and 100 per cent for Jamaica."
Schafer was appointed head coach recently after Theodore Whitmore was pushed aside when Jamaica lost their fourth consecutive match against Honduras in Tegucigalpa.
The squad began assembling Sunday and had a couple training workouts in Jamaica.
"We worked with our players in the two days in Jamaica; very concentrated, very hot and everybody knows what to do tomorrow for three points. It's not easy, Panama have played the Gold Cup, built a new team, a very good team."
The Panamanians are actually one spot above Jamaica in the qualifiers, with six points, and are also desperate for a win to strengthen their chances.
This is the second meeting between Jamaica and Panama in this final round, with both playing out a 1-1 finish at the National Stadium in Kingston when Marvin Elliott's 23rd-minute headed goal was cancelled by Luis Hernandez's 67th-minute strike.
The result mirrored Panama's hard-to-beat status against Jamaica as in 13 tries, Jamaica have won twice, while losing on five occasions.
Despite all that has gone wrong - before and during this campaign - the Boyz appear very upbeat; a result of new blood and coaching guidance.
Chief among Schafer's additions are proven international goalscorers Luton Shelton and Marlon King. Shelton, the nation's all-time scoring leader with 35 goals in 73 outings, was dropped for the last two matches, following Jamaica's loss in Costa Rica. King, with 12 goals in 21 matches, had announced his retirement last November after being snubbed by Whitmore.
Additionally, the popular Jermaine 'Tuffy' Anderson, the local premier league's leading scorer and a perennial frontman on the scoring charts, is in the squad, satisfying sentiments at home.
King appears Schafer's number one strike option.
While explaining the way he wants his striker to play ahead of the late-evening training session, Schafer said: "In Marlon King we have a good player for this system and I'm looking for the second striker, (so) when he goes out he can go play in his position. I have a good feeling for tomorrow, for the 11 players."
However, on the matter of a starting 11, the German kept his cards close to his chest.
"No, I cannot tell you the 11 players. What is important is tomorrow Ricketts plays his 100th match for the national team."
That makes two sure starters.
Schafer is also contemplating alterations to the flat back four system, considering a 3-5-2 formation that provides added coverage with an additional central defender. "I talk to our team and watch the team in the clubs and training and (try to figure) what's the best system for our team, not for me. That is very important," he stressed.
"Many players play the system 3-5-2. In the past I hear you have very good results (with 3-5-2) and maybe we'll change."
Jermaine Taylor looks certain to be in the middle of defence, along with British-based Wes Brown, another new addition. Young Alvas Powell and Watford's Lloyd Doyley should occupy the flank defensive roles. Rodolph Austin, the attacking spark of the campaign thus far, Jermaine Johnson, Garath McLeary, Jobi McAnuff and Elliott representing live starting options in Schafer's plot.
In his brief stint, Schafer has not only brought an all-inclusive strategy to learn his players, their thoughts and gain insight for the all crucial engagements lying in wait. He also has a strategy to defend his opponents.
The man who guided Cameroon to the World Cup quarter-finals explained methods to counter key Panama players, noting they have to attack the tasks confidently.
"The players must approach the game with confidence," he said. "Teamwork is important, teamwork; when you lose the ball everybody must fight for the ball to be returned. If it's one-on-one, the second player must go help, teamwork and team spirit."
Schafer pointed to another main component.
"Discipline is number one, not only here in the hotel, in the training, very important in the match, discipline. The midfielder or the defender cannot make what he wants, he has to do what is important for the team.
"We don't need player for the media, we need player for three points. Everybody must help as a player, not only the 11 players; if you have a good bench then you have a good team," he emphasised.
Depending on its success, that level of teamwork could secure a much-needed win for Jamaica's Reggae Boyz.
1. United States 6 4 1 1 7 3 4 13
2. Costa Rica 6 3 2 1 7 3 4 11
3. Mexico 6 1 5 0 3 2 1 8
4. Honduras 6 2 1 3 6 7 -1 7
5. Panama 6 1 3 2 5 7 -2 6
6. Jamaica 6 0 2 4 2 8 -6 2