Catalonia lined up for Jamaica’s next friendly
Theodore Whitmore’s Jamaica, fresh from their troubled tour of Saudi Arabia, remain in the top 50 of the latest FIFA world rankings, with the Reggae Boyz potentially tackling the Catalonia national side in March.
The whistlestop tour in Asia was arranged to get the Boyz gelling as a team, and also to boost their world ranking against Saudi Arabia. Neither of these occurred and means Whitmore goes back to the drawing board.
Yet the obstacles that beset the Jamaica contingent – including COVID-19 positive tests, delayed and cancelled flights for players arriving as well as the threat of a strike over money -meant that Whitmore’s plans were constantly shelved.
The Boyz, who looked dishevelled with a tepid 3-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in Riyah but brilliantly bounced back to see off the hosts 2-1 in Whitmore’s 100th game as head coach, have not improved on October’s ranking of no.48 in today’s FIFA update (November 26).
They remain third in the CONCACAF region, behind Mexico (no.9) and USA (no.22). Hot on their heels four teams have slipped down the rankings, namely Costa Rica (no.51), Honduras (no.64), El Salvador (no.70) and Canada (no.73).
But Whitmore could get a chance to give his fringe players a chance to shine if the unofficial friendly against Catalonia in northeast Spain takes place in March. The teams were due to face each other last March at the Camp d’Esports de Lleida, but the coronavirus crisis put paid to their plans for their inaugural meeting.
With another FIFA international window due in March, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) is making plans to for the Boyz to travel to Catalonia if the pandemic allows. However, the region is suffering from rising coronavirus cases, which has forced the Catalan authorities to adopt strict measures that include the closure of land borders with the rest of Spain.
The JFF explained that these plans for a trip to Europe to meet minnows Catalonia should be made clearer by the end of January.
If this encounter takes place it will offer Whitmore a chance to run his eye over some more European-based players as well as those on the cusp of joining his squad ahead of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers that kick off in June. As Catalonia are not affiliated with either FIFA or UEFA, they are not permitted to compete in the prestigious World Cup tournament.
They should not be underestimated as Catalonia have chalked up victories over Argentina, Brazil, France and Spain. Jamaica would become only the 21st FIFA-affiliated team to play against them.
And Sergio, the 44-year-old manager of Catalonia who is also the head coach with La Liga outfit Real Valladolid, always has a plethora of players from the Spanish top flight to choose from.
Whitmore, who gave six players their debut in Saudi Arabia, has long been looking at strengthening his squad ahead of the World Cup qualifiers, and the Montego Bay-born coach was delighted with a number of those who made the recent trip to western Asia.
Yet in their first game against Saudi Arabia, the thumping 3-0 defeat, saw Whitmore foolishly throw on players as substitutes and seemingly without any meaningful direction. He soon rectified this, replacing his rarely seen chaotic approach with a prudent game plan that paid dividends with a 2-1 success, and gave glimmers of hope for a rosy future under the master tactician.