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The Gentleman's Game - Or Why Jamaica Won't Qualify for the 2010 World Cup

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         Views: 1518
2008-03-06 05:29:05     
Article by John Holland

A few weeks ago, I went out for a beer with a few friends. We visited an Irish pub and, of course, there was soccer on the tube. Our discussions eventually led us back to, shockingly, soccer. We made a conversational foray into Concacaf qualifying and discussed who the most likely teams to qualify for it were.

One of the gang was a Jamaican fellow, a soccer fan, and a despairing Jamaican national team fan. I admitted him to him my constant frustration with the Jamaican National Team. I've never watched Jamaica play a soccer game without screaming at the TV "SHOOT THE BALL! SHOOT IT! STOP PASSING! SHOOOOOOOOOT!" I learned that night that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

We discussed the reasons for Jamaica's lack of success the last 10 years. Despite their enjoyable and skilled brand of soccer, Jamaica hasn't appeared in the World Cup since 1998 and failed to advance past Caribbean Cup qualifying most recently - leading to their loud absence from the 2007 Gold Cup. While certainly there are socioeconomic factors at play and the fact that Jamaica's national side isn't overly well-funded and has a paucity of soccer players playing their club soccer outside of Jamaica, there's something else amiss.

The theory proposed by my Jamaican companion at the bar was that Jamaica regards soccer as a "gentleman's game". What he meant by this can be simplified to mean that the Jamaican side seems to feel obligated to have every player participate in every possession and also that the Jamaican defense allows the opposition an opportunity to manuever with the ball. In short, each player gets a fair chance with the ball. In terms of a code of honor, it's comparable to tossing an unarmed man a weapon before engaging in combat.

This approach leads to creative passing and attractive soccer. Every time I've played soccer with Jamaican players, I could rest assured that my ball-hogging nature would be appeased. Short passes and adept ball control always seemed to be the priority. This certainly leads to each player feeling involved in the games, but what it doesn't lead to is shots, goals, or victories.

Although I would be willing to bet decent money that Jamaica is consistently outshot and outfouled by opponents, I admit that this argument can be punched full of holes due to lack of empirical evidence. For the life of me, I couldn't find shot statistics for Jamaica's games in the last two years -please email me if you can find these stats.

However, I have a few things to support my arguments. First, my own eyes. Jamaica never seems to take shots and passes up opportunities that present themselves. The soccer is pretty, the passing is gorgeous, but it ends up looking like a poor man's Brasil.

Second, I have the results from Jamaica's last couple of years of play. Now, it's vaguely possible that Jamaica is taking 100 shots a game amd converting none of them, but that's about as likely as Carlos Ruiz going a game without diving.

In 2006, Jamaica played 6 international friendlies, only managing to win one while allowing 14 goals compared to a paltry total of 5 scored. In 2007, over a stretch of 9 friendlies, Jamaica chalked up 3 wins and 10 goals, while conceeding 17 goals and 5 losses. Hardly the two year record of a team ready for the World Cup.

With the rehiring of Rene Simoes amd some up and coming young strikers in the players pool like Shelton and Bryan, Jamaica seems to think they have a lot of momentum heading towards qualifying than in the last ten years.

I'm certainly not going to discount them totally at this stage. Jamaica has talent and drive going for them. However, until they embrace a ballhog, until they learn to stop passing the ball and take a few shots, they won't qualify for the World Cup.

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