So, they weren’t given a ghost of a chance to advance from the preliminary group phase of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and entertain the prospects of qualifying for next year’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland.
But Jamaica’s Young Reggae Boyz have defied the odds, somewhat, and finished the first phase unbeaten and tied on points with regional kingpins and the group’s winner Mexico (13 points), before losing on the tie-breaker of goal difference – plus 29 for Mexico and plus 21 for Jamaica.
The reaction from fans at home and abroad since then has been incredible, notwithstanding the team’s failure to advance to the next phase.
Notwithstanding, high praise for coach and staff
And while head coach Jerome Waite, his technical staff and the players have come in for high praise from all and sundry, the fact remains that the team was eliminated and therefore will have no chance of participating in the final next year.
I can’t help but believe that it was an opportunity missed by the powers that be at the local governing body, the Jamaica Football Federation, and it is one never to be missed again.
For those who might have missed it, the team was ill-prepared prior to leaving for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and thus given little or no chance to succeed. For many the team over-achieved and Waite was given the proverbial “basket to carry water”.
In their five games, Jamaica defeated Grenada 1-0 in their first game, then beat Nicaragua 3-0, thrashed Aruba 7-1 before drawing with Mexico 2-2. They close out the preliminary phase with an 11-0 victory over Saint Martin.
Based on the newly introduced format only the group winners advance to the next phase, and thus Mexico advanced from Jamaica’s group,
Waite told the Jamaican media that his charges were incredible.
“I must congratulate the boys because they did extremely well as a lot of people never expected them to even win a game, and at the end of this round we and Mexico ended up on the same number of points, so what these boys did was incredible and we can only build on that going forward.”
The Arnett Gardens head coach also noted that what his team achieved was nothing short of a miracle.
“I must tell you that I wasn’t even familiar with the players and their names, but what they did in the first game is amazing because they didn’t know what kind of person the coach is… but the things we plan they made sure they applied themselves very early.
“One of the things in the first training session was to see how best we can get them to concentrate as a defensive unit, but I must say they passed with ‘A’ marks, and from there on we realized we had to focus more on the offensive side because the defensive unit really stood tall throughout the competition,” Waite added.
“It makes me wonder if the preparation started out a little earlier for this unit if perhaps it would be a different ball game when you look at the first game where we missed up to 12 chances and we continued throughout the tournament missing chances, although we scored so many.”
Individuals with bright future
The coach, who was given the team merely a few days before its departure, believes that the fearlessness character shown and their understanding of the game were clear indications that within the squad were individuals with a bright future.
Now he believes the JFF needs to try its best to keep these players together because they are the country’s future.
Indictment on JFF
The fact that this team just missed out on advancing to the next phase, in my mind, is an indictment on the JFF. For though the local governing body has repeatedly highlighted its indigence, it could have and should have done more to at least give these boys a fighting chance at success.
Mexico, the US, or none of the other serious football administrations would have sent their team into battle unarmed.
The JFF needs not to allow a repeat of this embarrassing episode.
The 2018 CONCACAF Under-20 tourney featured a record 34 teams and unlike previous editions, which included regional qualifiers in the Caribbean and Central America and one final championship, this year’s redesigned competition ensures that all the participating teams have access to play more top-level matches.
And while at it, CONCACAF needs to make the playing field level for all and not slavishly cater to the big two of the US and Mexico.
There’s an old doctrine which states: “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”
The fifth and final round of the preliminary group phase saw Jamaica and Mexico tied on points, yet it was scheduled for Jamaica to contest their game before their main challengers. By the time Jamaica defeated Saint Martin 11-0, Mexico knew what they needed to do to win the group and advance.
We’ve seen the biases at the senior Concacaf level as well, especially at the Gold Cup where Mexico and the US can only meet in finals if they win all their games. Where’s the much-heralded FIFA fair play in these scenarios?