Historically one of the top talent-producing nations in the Caribbean, Jamaica only began attempting to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ finals in the 1966 cycle. Poor organisation, weak funding and inconsistent results were the usual order of those early days and the Jamaicans withdrew from qualifying entirely in the 1980s.
Everything changed in the run-up to France 1998. Brazilian manager and self-styled footballing philosopher René Simões scoured the island’s most obscure corners and went overseas to find players of Jamaican descent or Jamaican-born players at professional clubs in England. Suddenly the stars aligned and Jamaica became the first English-speaking side from the Caribbean to reach a World Cup finals, edging out Costa Rica by two clear points and joining USA and Mexico in the French finals. Since those heady days, however, the magic formula has never been recreated, with the team even failing to reach the final round of qualifying for the last two FIFA World Cup preliminary cycles.
FIFA World Cup finals history
The Reggae Boyz were a sensation on French soil, becoming almost at once the neutrals’ favourites for their colourful kits and cool island charms. Drawn into a difficult Group H, though, they opened with a 3-1 loss to eventual semi-finalists Croatia and then lost by a lopsided 5-0 scoreline against Argentina. They lifted spirits back home in Kingston in their third game, a 2-1 win over Japan in Lyon, with current head coach Theodore Whitmore scoring both goals in what remains the nation’s only win at a FIFA World Cup finals.
The current crop
Coach Whitmore has opted to rebuild the Jamaican side with the aim of reaching those dizzying heights of 1998 once again on a foundation of talent, organisation and determination. Choosing youth over experience, the coach spends his days training with a new generation of locally based players. The approach paid dividends too as he left out old talismans Ricardo Gardner and Ricardo Fuller and saw his young and inexperienced side win their fifth Caribbean Cup trophy. Next up, at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the coach’s brave young Reggae Boyz also put in a respectable performance to reach the quarter-finals of the region’s showpiece competition.
The key players
When included, Ricardo Gardner wears the captain’s armband and acts as the team’s spiritual leader, while England-based Ricardo Fuller will likely also be called back into the team and act as the main goal threat alongside Luton Shelton during qualifying. New York Red Bulls speed merchant Dane Richards spearheads a cadre of USA-based players, including LA Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Rickets.
Best performance in a FIFA competition: 1998 FIFA World Cup France (Group stages)
Former stars: Robby Earle, Theodore Whitmore, Onandi Lowe