Reggae Boyz team manager Roy Simpson believes midfielder Ravel Morrison is finally ready to don the black, green and gold kit of Jamaica after a few years of ambivalence.

The Reggae Boyz have done well to push their CONCACAF rankings and make it directly to the final round of World Cup qualification.

But I don’t believe that this has helped them. I believe it would have been better had the Reggae Boyz not done so well up to this point.

The brand, Reggae Boyz, is not what it used to be and as it stands, the team hasn’t been getting high-quality opponents during friendlies.

I believe that the match windows the team could have used to get sharp and stay sharp will be wasted on teams not of the quality to prepare the Reggae Boyz for the harsh realities of the Octagonal they are to face in June of 2021.

So far, the Reggae Boyz, the number four team in CONCACAF, will play against the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Three other teams will join the Reggae Boyz in the final-round fight for a place at the World Cup in Qatar.

The Reggae Boyz, if properly prepared, can compete against any of these teams, but without having to play in further qualifiers before the final round, I fear they may not be.

Outside of a 3-1 defeat to the United States in June of 2019, in the last year, the Reggae Boyz have played against Curacao, Panama, Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana and Aruba.

No disrespect to these teams, but as far as oppositions go, they may not be good enough to accurately prepare the Reggae Boyz for high-quality opposition in the Octagonal.

With no international football since the spread of COVID-19 and attempt to cauterize it from creating further devastation, the Reggae Boyz have been, in a word, idle.

You might say this applies to all the teams in the final round, however, these teams have a greater history of being successful at this level.

It is the Reggae Boyz who need to step up, improve to their level.

The team, I believe, has all the requisite talent to do so. The Reggae Boyz performance in making the second Gold Cup finals in their history is proof of that.

However, coach Theodore Whitmore and standout centre half Damion Lowe, have pointed to one thing while noting the excellent chances of this team of making it to Qatar in 2022.

The two have said the preparations need to be on point.

One of the ways of preparing is to play friendlies against high-enough quality opposition to ensure, match readiness and to figure out how to diminish your weaknesses.

While the opposition the Reggae Boyz have faced over the last year may provide them match readiness, these teams do not adequately show up the Reggae Boyz’ weaknesses.

Those weaknesses will not be shown up because, again, no disrespect to the opposition so far, the Reggae Boyz are better.

The Jamaica Football Federation has kept its plans for the months preceding the Octagonal close to its chest but if the nature of friendlies in the recent past is anything to go by, the Reggae Boyz might find themselves short of work come June.

Despite a rich history in football, the Caribbean has not had many moments to savour on the World stage, making them, interestingly, all the more special.

Cuba provided the first of the moments, making the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup all the way back in 1938.

Cuba had always been a little special island, long proving itself self-sufficient and able to compete with the rest of the world, despite any political or financial issues that could serve to slow its development.

That self-sufficiency and ability to achieve despite significant odds meant that Cuba’s entrance to the FIFA World Cup was not a emblematic moment and the rest of the Caribbean felt no closer to the possibility of making it on the world stage.

Thirty-six years later, Haiti provided the second moment, getting to the FIFA World Cup in 1974.

That feat, for a country, which had long-standing political issues and an overbearing poverty problem, was immense.

Now the rest of the Caribbean began to take note. Maybe now other islands could dare to dream.

While Haiti’s football has ebbed and flowed and they have not quite gotten back to those heady heights, the moment was important.

All of a sudden, the possibilities for Caribbean football were immense.

But it took another 20 years before the Reggae Boyz were on a similar journey. For the first time, CONCACAF had more than the obligatory two spots that would go to Mexico and the United States.

Now there was hope for someone else to join the fray. Still there were obstacles.

In 1997, the Reggae Boyz were up against it. In the final round they were winless, until a series of three games, 1-0 wins over each of El Salvador, Canada, and Costa Rica.

After finishing winless in the first four games of the final qualifying round, Jamaica recorded three 1–0 wins over El Salvador, Canada, and Costa Rica, giving them a chance at history.

Jamaica were on the cusp of becoming the first English-speaking team from the Caribbean to make it to the World Cup.

But standing in their way was the mighty Mexico. Jamaica needed to avoid losing to a team they had lost to 6-0 earlier in those qualifiers. There was hope but it was slim.

History has a funny way of staying the same and no matter how many times this story gets told, the 0-0 draw the Reggae Boyz achieved against the attacking juggernauts that were Mexico still seems unlikely.

An entire nation celebrated, but so did the rest of the Caribbean. After all, there were other countries in the region that had proven worthy adversaries for the Reggae Boyz and that meant somebody else could make it too.

In 2006, somebody else did.

Trinidad and Tobago, still with two of its legends, Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy, in tow would take an ageing team, and prove the Caribbean were now becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Until 2018 when Iceland made their World Cup bow, T&T were the smallest nation to ever play in the tournament.

But it wasn’t easy either, and Trinidad and Tobago, after finishing fourth in the final round had to contend with the unknown quantity that was Bahrain.

The tiny twin-island republic had to play against a team, which had financial resources that would dwarf it.

Things looked even more bleak for T&T after the first leg of the home-and-away tie on November 12, 2005, played at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, ended 1-1.

This meant, T&T had to go away to win against a team they couldn’t get the better of at home.

Again, the Caribbean beat the odds and a 1-0 win at the Bahrain National Stadium on the 16th of November 2005 again changed the course of history for the Caribbean side and the region around it.

The Caribbean has, since those moments made great leaps in the transport of its players all over the world, even if those marginal improvements have yet to bare fruit in terms of consistent Caribbean representation at the ICC World Cup.

But the improvements continue as can be seen with the large number of locally grown players, now turning out for the national teams of countries all over the region.

Today there is more and more competition from the rest of the Caribbean and neither T&T nor Jamaica have a free run of the region anymore.

It is interesting that the success of the three over the last 46 years, is what has created a competitive Caribbean and destroyed the spectre of their unquestioned dominance.  

Trinidad and Tobago Men’s football team captain, Khaleem Hyland, is stuck in Saudi Arabia without his lifeblood, football, but he does send a message filled with hope.

According to Hyland, life without football is tough, especially when he cannot leave Saudi Arabia to be with his family in the twin-island republic, but still, there is opportunity in the midst of all this.

“It’s been difficult for everyone as not being able to play football is very hard to endure. I see everyone posting all this time without football and life is not normal. The supporters and players both here and at home have a challenging time to get through,” said Hyland.

“I wish everyone the best of health and best of luck. We know the procedures we need to follow to be clean and be healthy. We need to rally together as a country to get it all back on track. Hopefully, we can live as one again as a country and as people in this world,” he said.

As for T&T’s football, Hyland believes there is work to be done to get it back to where it should be, but that there are the tools to do it.

“Now we have a new coach. It’s been a while now Terry Fenwick has been aiming and hoping that he would get the job. Congratulations to him. I worked with him at a young age at Jabloteh and I know he is a very good person. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get information to players and get quality out of them. He tends to have his ideas and plans on board,” said Hyland.

According to the Al-Faisaly midfielder, while he has much respect for Fenwick, he is also aware that how quickly T&T can recover post-COVID-19 also depends heavily on the players and fans.

“Hopefully we can all work for the best for our country and for our football to move onto the right track and hopefully we can move on to better ways, winning ways or to even a better structure than the past,” he said.

“We just have to look forward to the future and work hard as a team. Everyone needs to do their own homework also. It’s a new coach in charge now and everyone has a chance to show what they can do and bring forward the best towards the national team. We are representing the Red, White and Black and we need to do our best for our country. It is an honour to always wear the colours of Trinidad and Tobago.”

On a more personal note, Hyland has been keeping fit in the hope that football in Saudi Arabia can restart sooner rather than later.

“I’ve been going through my paces every day, working hard, training hard The last couple months paid off with me getting on the scoresheet and the team doing great before COVID-19 took over,” he said.

Hyland also had a word for his family in a difficult time, assuring them he is safe.

“Right now here in Saudi Arabia and in the world everything is at a standstill and the league has been postponed. It is hard for me to be here with days off and I cannot leave the country and cannot fly to go and be with my loved ones. I have a couple friends here in Saudi Arabia and they make me feel at home away from home. The atmosphere in Saudi Arabia is still good and they are dealing with it well and taking the precautionary measures to ensure we are safe.

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