CONCACAF/WORLD CUP SOCCER 2006 QUALIFYING
Understandably, the end to Jamaica’s campaign for the 2006 World Cup Finals was accompanied by a huge sense of disappointment, not only in Jamaica but throughout the Diaspora. After all, everyone had looked forward to the beloved “Reggae Boyz” advancing to the next qualification level, from which three and possibly four teams would move on to the finals in Germany.
In a real sense, Jamaica’s exit did not take place on November 17, in Columbus, Ohio. Truth be told, an emerging sign of exit flickered with the loss at home to Panama, then considered the weakest team in the 4-team playoff. The final nail to the coffin was driven in, in Kingston on October 13, in the drawn match against El Salvador. Thus Carl Brown became a casualty of several flawed decisions. We might never know, yet all this could have been avoided. What we know for sure is that having “non-played” its way up to this point, it seemed highly unrealistic to depend on the last match to secure qualification to the next round, given the Herculean task of defeating the U.S. in the United States.
After all, the record shows that over the course of the overall series, Jamaica had never before defeated the United States, with the US being victorious on eight occasions and the others ending in a draw.
Tactically, a number of points must be taken into consideration at this level of qualification, with a careful analysis, involving realistic expectations. When Jamaica let the United States off the hook in Kingston on August 18, with a 1-1 tie, there was need to lament, particularly since the U.S. goal came in the dying moments of the game. Yet this result did not carry the potential of signaling Jamaica’s exit. How come?
While it would be sheer euphoria to have at last defeated the U.S., the fact is the U.S. is among the top 11 teams in the world, as well as one of the two strongest teams in the CONCACAF region. A draw at home is thus acceptable.
It was in the second game that the ‘Road to Germany’ campaign started to disintegrate. Here was a game that everyone expected Jamaica to win. At that date, Jamaica was ranked 51 in the world while Panama was ranked 103. The result of that game, though totally unexpected and disappointing, again left room for Jamaica to regroup, which was done in a beautiful 3-0 victory against El Salvador in El Salvador. Playing away against Panama and leaving with a tie, again though disappointing, and in a situation of growing anxiety, was acceptable. Soccer pundits would appreciate that when playing away from home you avoid defeat at all cost. So a draw is acceptable. Jamaica’s star, though fading, was still lit. But in the very next game at home against a team that was handily defeated in front of its own fans, how then could Jamaica allow El Salvador to leave with a draw. To this writer, that was the final nail in the coffin.
All of the aforementioned left Jamaica in a desperate situation, playing away against the United States in the final game, which then took on the reality of a “must” win. If not a historical first-time win against the United States, then Jamaica’s dying hope would have to depend on the outcome of the Panama/El Salvador game. For that result we could only hope for a draw, or better yet, a Panama defeat.
Panama’s victory in that game (given Jamaica’s tie with the U.S.) conclusively meant that Jamaica would have to look to the future – the 2010 World Cup, – a long and agonizing wait. What went wrong?
There is that school of thought that questioned the re-appointment of Coach Sebastiao Lazaroni. According to this school of thought, the fact that Jamaica had qualified from the first round, there was not sufficient reasons (based on results) to replace Carl Brown at that point. The lack of confidence in Carl Brown and looking for an external saviour should have brought into view Lazaroni’s earlier sojourn in Jamaica, which ended with rather disappointing results.
It might be instructive to recall that when the U.S. emerged with disastrous results from the 1998 World Cup Finals in France, it looked, not for an external saviour, but to one of its own in the person of Bruce Arena. Since Arena’s appointment, the United States has steadily improved in world ranking. Yet when he was given full reign over the U.S. team, Arena had no international coaching experience, offering up to that point only the then-fledging MLS (U.S. Major League Soccer) and collegiate experience.
In contrast, up to the point where Lazaroni reappeared, Carl Brown’s resumé then included leading Jamaica to two Caribbean championships (1991, 1998); 3rd place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament (1993); a 1-year apprenticeship with Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League; and several years as an understudy to three Brazilians – Rene Simoes, Clovis de Oliveira, and the first incarnation of Lazaroni. Also, apart from being the most successful local coach, Brown has also given his life work to the development of football in Jamaica. From the community level to the club level to the national level. And what else can we say? He has been successful at all levels, both as player and coach. And lest we forget: Brown was also coach to the successful 1998 World Cup team that went all the way to the finals in France.
It is unbelievable that Coach Lazaroni, reportedly in explaining the defensive lapse that led to the U.S. equalizer in the last minute in Kingston, could remark that he did not know his players: even the uninitiated man in the stand was at that point shouting to pack the defense in this final moment to earn that historical victory.
So not having previously ever defeated the U.S., somehow expectations were high when the “Reggae Boyz” traveled to Columbus on November 17. Look at how the cards were stacked against Jamaica.
1. Though the United States, having already qualified, would have been expected to field a new and young team, given Arena’s record, any team representing the U.S. would have been expected to be highly competitive, especially with younger and newer players trying to impress the coach for the future.
2. The game was played in the United States, in a stadium where the U.S. has never lost before. Keep in mind that up to this point, Jamaica had never defeated the United States in previous encounters. In fact, the U.S. has developed into a very difficult team to beat at home, with only 6 losses in 42 home appearances, and losing only one qualifying game at home since 1985. The U.S. now enjoys a 29-game unbeaten streak against CONCACAF opponents.
3. The game was played in very cold November weather.
4. And what was the purpose and all the fuss surrounding the acquisition of Jason Euell? After the time and effort expended to get Euell on the team, plus the many miles logged to travel to Columbus, yet Euell was called upon quite late in the game, despite the fact that, as cited in the Sunday Herald dated 14-20 November 2004, it was said that Euell’s vast experience would be called upon as “he brings to us a whole lot of experience]…[the difference between him and other midfielders that we have, is his ability to use his pace and get up quickly to join the strikers”.
With respect to that final game, let’s do a little Monday-morning “quarterbacking”. Could Coach Lazaroni have fielded a more offensive minded team? Could Jamaica have replaced a clearly in-effective Damani Ralph at striker earlier, thus trying fresh legs? What, then, about Marlon King, the leading striker on the squad. And how about the mid-field? Could there have been some reorganizing, particularly with Whitmore seemingly out of the game and at no point was he ever a threat?
What of the future? It is the opinion of this writer that careful analyses are needed, devoid of emotion and with realistic expectations. I believe that it was a mistake to have replaced Carl Brown at that point in the Journey. Is this, therefore, a message that no local coach can aspire to lead a World Cup campaign.
This is the time to be courageous, to tinker a bit. To make that bold and imaginative move. We could well see similar results to that now being enjoyed by the United States, who looked at home to a home-grown coach in the person of Bruce Arena. Yet there was a confidence that prompted Arena’s appointment. It is the same confidence that we must now demonstrate because the answer to our problem does not necessarily reside in searching for that external saviour.
A final word about the emerging argument concerning the use of “British-based” players. Lest we forget, most of the players who represented Jamaica in this unsuccessful round, including the final game against the U.S. in Ohio, would have to be seen as locally-developed players. They are professionals merely playing overseas, just like any other player. To wit: Ricketts, Williams, Gardner, Davis, Fuller, Ziadie, Whitmore, among others.