After an almighty dip in form, results and respectability around the North, Central American and Caribbean zone, once-mighty Jamaica are back with a bang. The Reggae Boyz, up five places to crack the top-100 (98th) in the FIFA Coca-Cola ranking for November, are still in a re-building phase and have a long way to go, but are on the right track as CONCACAF qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa gets underway in early 2008.
Although a way off their high-water mark of 27th in the global standings earned in August of that fateful year of 1998, the Jamaicans five-point bump to 98th in the most recent release was earned on the back of two impressive friendly performances in November. In a pair of victories over El Salvador and Guatemala, the Boyz did not concede a single goal and scored no less than five.
The two wins came in the space of just three days too. The first was played on Sunday 18 November and saw the Jamaicans roar to down Central American side El Salvador by an emphatic 3-0 scoreline at the National Stadium known to locals as 'the Office' in Kingston. A pair of goals from Bolton Wanderer's outstanding Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner and one more from Rudolph Austin confirmed an easy win for the previously struggling island kings, and the victory was the first for the Reggae Boyz in Kingston since they beat Canada 2-1 way back in October of 2006.
Just three days later, they cruised to a 2-0 win over significantly more respectable opposition in the form of Guatemala, who only just missed out on a place at the last world finals in Germany. The victory also saw the Jamaicans complete 180 minutes without conceding a goal, a rarity for the normally attack-minded side.
Omar Daley and Ricardo Fuller scored the goals for the Reggae Boyz on the day, to finish a streak of four consecutive wins over the Chapines.
Hint of things to come?
The upswing in form in the two November matches will have the Jamaicans breathing a big sigh of relief, considering their last game, back in July, saw them lose out 8-1 to Iran. Another reason for optimism in the camp is the recent return of former head coach Rene Simoes.
The Brazilian was the man responsible for seeing the Jamaicans soar to the rarefied air of 27th in the global rankings, and led the Reggae Boyz to their first and only FIFA World Cup finals in the summer of 1998 in France.
Taking over the reins from globally renowned Serbian tactician Bora Milutinovic, who was sacked last month, it is hoped Simoes can lead the Jamaicans back to the Promised Land when qualifying for South Africa 2010 begins anew in early 2008.
Jamaica, ranked 12 in CONCACAF at the time of the Preliminary Draw in Durban, avoided a first round home-away series, and will meet modest opposition in mid-June of 2008 in their second-round knockout contest (either the Bahamas or the British Virgin Islands).
With signs of a revival everywhere, the cream of the CONCACAF crop and higher-ups in the global standing should do their level best to beware of the resurgent Reggae Boyz.