The qualification by Jamaica for France 98 finals must be viewed as a positive step in the direction of progress for the Caribbean. Reaching the finals is not only historical, but exciting for a country which does not possess a professional league in the true sense.
As a Caribbean person, I shall be supporting the Jamaican team in its endeavor to achieve more than just first round participation. However, the road to France for Jamaica was not paved with the authority which some of the armchair critics would like us to believe.
I have heard interpretations of numerous success stories, ranging from the appointment of their Brazilian foreign coach Rene Simoes, to the enormous sums of money the Jamaicans spent in order to qualify.Taking the last comment first, I do not subscribe to those who believe that money was the reason for success. If that was the case, then The finals would have been filled with the wealthy countries like Canada, Australia, Switzerland etc.
As to the appointment of Rene Simoes, I view this in two ways. The first is that Caribbean people have always been of the view that nothing local is good enough, and the foreigner gets more respect from the players and officials alike. So the presence of Simoes may have brought that dimension to the Jamaicans, whose admiration for the Brazilian soccer scenario is sacred. Maybe the business sector responded to the concept positively and decided to spend the money to have Simoes as their coach. despite this, the journey for Simoes was not all that comfortable.
He had not won any regional tournaments with the senior team, he failed to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics with the U-23 squad and his effort to make the finals with the U-20 squad in Monterey Mexico failed. He took his squad to Africa, and Brazil (twice) and even after those trips, the team failed to win the Shell Cup. When the semifinal round of the World Cup qualifying started, Jamaica did not make an impact after four games, and there was talk by the local experts to return to the local coach. The JFF stuck to their original decision and with the introduction of a number of English born players of Jamaican Parentage, the team was given a tremendous boost. The professionalism of the foreigners all of whom were playing in the English top two divisions, brought that extra touch to a previously average squad. And just around that time, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Canada were on a course of self destruction, leaving the Jamaicans to make a late drive. They qualified and Simoes became an overnight hero, a philosopher, and by his own words, a religious messiah. their outstanding performances against The USA and Mexico were the main reasons for their trip to France.
Since their qualification, the team drew great support from the Caribbean people and their drawn fixture against a Brazilian squad in the Gold Cup was the base for launching their world cup campaign. They prepared a pre World Cup schedule which saw them hold Wales to a draw. But defeats by Macedonia and Iran saw them at the bottom of a four team tournament. The question now is whether or not Jamaica will make any positive impact on the group in which they are drawn.
The diehards will claim that defeating Argentina is not out of the reach of the Reggae Boyz. We are all aware that Argentina starts almost every World Cup poorly. They lost to Belgium in Spain 82 and struggled against South Korea in Mexico in 1986. But Argentina is one of the few soccer countries which knows exactly how to approach World Cup competition, and they will not be an easy team to beat. Croatia was unlucky to lose the final of UEFA 96 and has been consistent since then. They are solid in defense and methodical in attack, their organizational strength will make them difficult to beat. What about Japan ! Well! what about them ? Don't underestimate the Japs. They have come along the right way. They qualified for many World Youth tournaments and performed well. They started their professional league and the home players benefited most when they played regularly among the foreign stars. Their U20 team in Malaysia world Cup finals was excellent and demonstrated how far their soccer had progressed.
So while my heart is with the Reggae Boyz, my experience in analyzing their opponents in comparison to theirs, has left me with a feeling that Jamaica will have to produce absolute brilliance to move to the second round. I hope that they do, but its a tough road.
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