Yes we can: Gray confident current crop of Reggae Boyz can replicate 1998 World Cup qualifying feat

By July 09, 2024
GRAY...I think we deserve it and we are going to work our hardest to get there. GRAY...I think we deserve it and we are going to work our hardest to get there. file

Despite enduring a failed Copa America campaign, England-born winger Demarai Gray believes Jamaica's senior Reggae Boyz displayed some semblance of improvement in the tournament, which has left him excited at the prospects to come in their push for a 2026 FIFA World Cup berth.

Though they lost 0-1 to Mexico, 1-3 to Ecuador, and 0-3 to Venezuela -in what turned out to be Heimir Hallgrimsson's last assignment in charge -Gray pointed to the positives and the lessons learnt, which he is optimistic they will apply under the new Head coach for the remainder of the World Cup qualifying campaign. 

"I think it (Copa America) has shown us that there is more quality out there at international level and no matter the team, there are quality players and quality competition. That goes for us as well. We have quality players; it’s just about putting it together and developing. I’ve said it many times, I think we’re a work in progress. The improvement has been there and I think there’s a lot of improvement to come. Personally, I’m excited," Gray said in a sit down with FIFA.

The Boyz have already registered 1-0 and 3-2 victories over Dominican Republic and Dominica in their two qualifying fixtures to date, with British Virgin Islands and Guatemala next in their line of sight.

However, with the qualifiers on pause until next year, Gray explained that the Concacaf Nations League, which begins in September, and possible friendly encounters will serve in fine tuning their technical and tactical efficiency, as their main target is to secure one of three automatic berths to the global showpiece.

"There’s no better start than two wins and I feel like we just have to continue that in the rest of qualifying. The World Cup is something that we’re eager to reach, so it’s a great start and now we just have to maintain that level of performance," Gray said.

"There are a lot of different games that we have to play, Nations League, friendlies. The World Cup qualifying games are obviously very exciting because we want to get over the line as quickly as possible. But when you play for Jamaica, the fixture or whatever competition you’re playing in, it’s just exciting to be part of the team. At the end of the day, the goal is to win every game we play, so we’ll just take that mentality into each game. When the World Cup qualifiers come around, it will be very exciting for us," he added.

Gray, who joined Jamaica's set up in 2023, has no doubt that the current crop of Reggae Boyz possess enough quality to replicate the country's 1998 qualifying feat.

In fact, the 28-year-old was quick to point out that the Theodore Whitmore-led team that graced the global stage in France back then, has fuelled their aspirations to rise to the occasion.

"It (France 1998 team) is a special team. Sometimes in meetings we’ll watch clips and stuff of that team and now we’re trying to re-create those memories. As I’ve said, it's exciting to be part of that process, and I’m confident that we will be there with the players that we have here now," Gray said with an air of confidence.

"It is a dream for me. To participate in a World Cup, a competition you watch as a kid, I just think that for the boys and the nation it would be massive. I think we deserve it and we are going to work our hardest to get there," he declared.

With five goals and four assists in 14 games so far, Gray, who possesses speed and flair has become an indispensable asset in the Reggae Boyz team along with other heritage players, Michail Antonio, and Bobby Reid, just to name a few.

While speculations are rife that Arsenal winger Reiss Nelson could soon add to the country's bevy of dynamic attacking players, the reality remains that games are played on the pitch and not on paper, something Gray is well aware of.

"There’s always talk of guys potentially joining Jamaica, but what we have in this group is good, too. We have good togetherness here within the group, so whatever players we choose or call up is down to the federation. But what we’ve got in the squad now, I’m happy with it and it’s a great environment to come to work in," Gray noted, as he urged fans and neutrals alike to stick with the team. 

"We just ask for their full support, as they’ve always given the team, given to myself. I’m grateful for it. We just ask that they stay behind us and there are a lot of exciting times ahead," he ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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