Canada expects desperate foe in Reggae Boyz in CONCACAF World Cup qualifier

·5 min read

After a fine showing Thursday in a 1-1 tie with powerful Mexico in the hostile confines of Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, Canada expects another rude reception in Jamaica in World Cup qualifying play Sunday.

The Reggae Boyz, last in the CONCACAF Octagonal round robin with just one point from four matches (0-3-1), will be desperate for a result against unbeaten Canada (1-0-3).

"My concern with Jamaica is they're a wounded animal at the moment," Canada coach John Herdman said Saturday after his team's training session at Kingston National Stadium. "At some point this team is going to take three points and they're going to take someone's head (off) clean. I'm just hoping this isn't going to be Canada (on Sunday) in their own stadium.

"We've already been out there today. It's a tough pitch to play football on. The boys just experienced that and you're in heat. So they've got the conditions that they want. They know that this is going to be a chance for redemption for them. There's no more dangerous foe than a desperate man … This is not an easy team and this isn't an easy path to three points. We're going to have to earn everything here."

Jamaica, ranked 59th in the world, is coming off a 2-0 loss to the U.S. in Austin on Thursday in a performance that drew the headline "Nightmare campaign continues. Reggae Boyz's World Cup dream in tatters" in Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper.

Prior to that the Jamaicans lost 2-1 in Mexico, 3-0 to visiting Panama and tied 1-1 in Costa Rica.

"When you look at the (Jamaica) players on paper, you've got guys there with (English) Premier League experience. You've got guys who've won (the) Scottish championship with Rangers," said Herdman. "You've got winners in that team. You've got players playing in the top league in Belgium.

"On paper, I would have said when all the players are here, they're one of the top three teams in CONCACAF."

Added defender Doneil Henry: "That's a scary team."

Canada, ranked 51st, opened play in the final qualifying round by tying visiting Honduras 1-1 before drawing the U.S. 1-1 in Nashville and blanking El Salvador 3-0 in Toronto. After Jamaica, the Canadians will return home to host Panama (1-1-2) on Wednesday at Toronto's BMO Field.

The Canadians will be without the injured Atiba Hutchinson, Cyle Larin and Lucas Cavallini. Herdman had hoped they would recover in time to join the team during this international window but he said they are not in Jamaica and time may be running out to have them available for the Panama game.

"There's a certain deadline that we've been working with them and we've got one more day to make those finalizations," he said.

"We're going to keep the window open as long as we possibly can."

Junior Hoilett and David Wotherspoon were slated to join the team in Jamaica after skipping the Mexico portion of the trip due to the quarantine in Britain necessitated by a visit to Mexico.

Richie Laryea, Tajon Buchanan and Steven Vitoria are suspended after picking up yellow cards, their second of the round, in the second half against Mexico.

Herdman says it's a chance to show his team's depth.

"I think that's the exciting thing for me," he said. "As a coach, you've been telling players, maybe for two, three years, that you're not in the starting 11 and giving them rationale why and (saying) your chance will come. For some of these guys, their chance is coming."

"Sometimes it's not about talent. In this game it will be about the sum of the parts becoming greater than the whole. And that's what we've been able to do as Canada, I think, the last few months when we haven't been able to field some of our bigger names."

Each of the eight teams in the Octagonal play 14 matches. Come March, the top three sides will book their ticket to Qatar 2022 with the fourth-place team taking part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

The U.S. (2-0-2) currently tops the standings over Mexico on goal difference. Canada is third, two points behind, while Panama is fourth.

It marks Canada's first trip to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying since the leadup to France 98. The Canadian men have only ever taken part in one World Cup, in 1986 in Mexico.

Canada's record against Jamaica is 9-6-6 in 21 international “A” matches since 1985. The Canadian men are 1-2-3 against the Reggae Boyz in World Cup qualifiers (1992, 1997 and 2008).

Canada won 2-0 the last time the two met, in September 2017 at BMO Field.

That game saw a 16-year-old Alphonso Davies sent off in the 75th minute for kicking out at Jamaica's Damion Lowe after the two went down in a tangle in the corner. Davies apologized via social media later that day.

The 2017 win was a measure of revenge for losing 2-1 to Jamaica in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup earlier that summer. The Jamaicans went on to upset Mexico 1-0 in the semifinal before falling 2-1 to the U.S.

Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Jonathan Osorio scored for Canada in the 2017 BMO Field win. Hoilett was the man of the match, tormenting defenders while showing off a deep bag of tricks.

The Canadian men are 1-4-4 in Jamaica, losing their last four games there. The last meeting between the two at Kingston National Stadium was a 1-0 Jamaica win in January 2010.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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