Jamaica are back on top of the footballing pack in the West Indies having picked up their fifth Caribbean Cup crown at the weekend. Going on a scoring spree in the finals, staged in sun-splashed Martinique, the Reggae Boyz have re-established themselves as the kings of the Caribbean scene with their second title on the trot.
“This is a feeling that words can’t express,” enthused coach and former captain Theodore Whitmore, who also won the Caribbean Cup as a player. “We came here and we achieved our objective. It was a tough nine days, but we were prepared for it.” The Jamaicans began the tournament at a canter, going 100 per cent through the group stage with wins over Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and Guadeloupe before a slim 2-1 win over Grenada in the semi-final of the eight-team tournament.
Whitmore will be the first to admit that the final against fast-improving Guadeloupe, adopted as the honorary home team after the elimination of Martinique, was no walk in the park. “Finals aren’t always the prettiest or most exciting games,” he said of the contest at the Stade Municipal Pierre Aliker, which the Reggae Boyz won by way of a tense penalty shootout after the game ended 1-1 in regular time. Despite the loss, Guadeloupe, a small French overseas holding, are coming on and on in the region and will join Jamaica at next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, their third in a row. They roared to the semi-finals of the region’s top tournament in 2007 and the quarters in 2009.
“We have to get ready for the Gold Cup again,” said captain and Kansas City Wizards midfielder Stephane Auvray, who led Guadeloupe in a sturdy performance in the final after losing out 2-0 to the Jamaicans in the group stage. “Our status is different from the other Caribbean countries and we can’t really get our players in to train, but we are accustomed to that, so we will make Guadeloupe football evolve as best we can.”
Jamaica can pin their championship run, their fifth Caribbean title, on the lively play of a young side looking to establish itself after something of a slump following their proudest moment: qualifying for the FIFA World Cup France 1998™. New York Red Bulls speed merchant Dane Richards finished the tournament as top scorer with three goals, tied with Kithson Bain of Grenada. Jamaica scored 12 goals in the finals, making them far and away the best attacking team in the tournament. Guadeloupe were next in the list with five goals to their name.
Joining Jamaica and Guadeloupe at next year’s CONCACAF cup of nations will be Cuba and Grenada, who both fell at the semi-final hurdle. For the Spice Boyz of Grenada, qualification for the continental championship represents a major stepping stone, and the competition in the United States will be only their second, having bowed out at the group stage in 2009. Cuba, for their part, are old hands at the Gold Cup. They lined up at the tournament five times previously, their best finish a quarter-final berth in 2003.
Trouble in T&T
While the Gold Cup-bound quartet oozes sunshine and confidence, gloom and self doubt will be the predominant mood in the Trinidad and Tobago camp. Having qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ in 2006, the dual-island nation have since fallen from glory, and a group-stage elimination for former playing hero-turned-coach Russell Latapy sees the Soca Warriors miss out on their second consecutive Gold Cup. “I am trying to bring in young players and that takes time,” said Latapy, whose young squad were knocked out in the group stage after shock losses to Grenada and Cuba. “The older players who I could have chosen may have been too old or too slow. So, it is a case of giving these young guys a chance to see what it’s like.”
While Cuba, Grenada, Guadeloupe and Jamaica prepare to join the USA, Mexico and the rest of the region’s leading lights at the showpiece event in June of 2011, once-mighty Trinidad and Tobago will have to lick their wounds and turn their attentions to the next step in their overdue revival: qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.