KINGSTON, Jamaica – Proud and prickly, Jamaica are the smallest country still in contention for a CONCACAF World Cup berth – and probably the smallest in the world still holding a realistic shot of making it to Brazil next summer.
The island nation is used to punching above its weight on the world sporting stage, fostering a feisty attitude aptly summed up by one of the many hard-edged dancehall songs blared at full volume in the National Stadium at Independence Park in the lead-up to the Reggae Boyz' qualifier against Mexico on Tuesday night.
“We nuh frighten fi nobody/But wi respect everybody/And wi badda dan everybody/So mi will run weh anybody,” goes the rapid-fire patois chorus of “Do Sumn” by Konshens, evoking the fighting spirit that has powered the likes of world-class sprinter Usain Bolt and the 1998 edition of soccer’s Reggae Boyz that delighted the globe at the World Cup in France.
But hopes are fading as head coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore and his men labor through a fierce stretch of their Hexagonal schedule. February's scoreless draw at Mexico got Jamaica's Hex campaign off to a great start, but Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to El Tri leaves them with two points from their first four matches, and their next two matches (at home against the United States on Friday and a road trip to Honduras on June 11) pose two more daunting challenges.
“To tell you the truth – and I'm talking Jamaican language – dem don't play no ball game tonight,” Reggae Boyz supporter Stephen Doig told MLSsoccer.com at the National Stadium on Tuesday. “We are at the bottom of the table, so we definitely have to win that game on Friday, and pray that some other sides lose. If we had drawn this game, it wouldn't be that bad.”
Already feeling the pressure after March's home draw against Panama, the home side strung together some quality passing sequences against Mexico and tested goalkeeper Jesús Corona on several occasions.
Yet a foul throw, followed by a positioning lapse by 18-year-old right back Alvas Powell allowed El Tri veteran Carlos Salcedo to deliver the cross that created Aldo de Nigris' game-winner early in the second half, deflating the crowd and putting the Reggae Boyz behind the 8-ball in their pursuit of a top-four Hex finish.
A poor start against the USMNT on Friday (9:30 pm ET, beIN Sport) could see Whitmore and his men lose the full backing of their home fans, who can be difficult to please even at the best of times. Those precarious circumstances only further elevate the importance of a strong start for both teams on Friday.
“Jamaicans are with their team, but if you fail, that's it,” said another fan, Michael Sucklan, on Tuesday. “They are hard judges. You win five matches straight, you lose one, that's it.”