Whitmore aims to reverse fortunes against nemesis Panama

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    Whitmore we will make historyWHITMORE… I made them aware of the fact that we have not beaten this Panama team in a long time

    PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — Panama may boast of having the better of the exchanges against Jamaica in recent times, but Reggae Boyz Head Coach Theodore Whitmore sees tomorrow’s contest as a grand opportunity for his charges to rewrite history and record a first win against the Central Americans in 10 years.

    Jamaica garnered five points to emerge winners of Group C ahead of Curacao on four points, the same as El Salvador, with Honduras finishing bottom with three points.

    Courtesy of their third group phase win in the last four editions, Jamaica earned the right to oppose Panama, who finished second behind hosts USA in Group D, in tomorrow’s quarter-finals inside Lincoln Financial Field here in Philadelphia at 5:30 pm (4:30 pm Jamaica time).

    The second game will pit the USA against Curacao, with the winners meeting on July 3 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The final is slated for Chicago on July 7.

    “We had a long meeting with the players last night (Thursday) to let them know the job at hand and the objective, and I made them aware of the fact that we have not beaten this Panama team in a long time,” Whitmore shared with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

    “So there is a lot at stake for this game and you would have seen the training this morning (yesterday) where it was very lively, enthusiastic and everything, so therefore everything is going according to plan,” added the team’s technical leader.

    Jamaica last recorded a victory (3-2) over Panama in a friendly international in Jamaica on June 7, 2009, but had suffered four losses out of their last five games, including two in Jamaica. The other was a 0-0 draw in a World Cup qualifier in Panama.

    Fortunately for Whitmore, most of the players on the current 23-man roster have been spared the scars of those defeats, and that in itself gives the coach hope that his players are faced with an opportunity to reverse that unwanted record.

    “This is why the meeting was important for those who didn’t know just to give them an idea of how far these two teams go back [and their winning record against us], so this is an opportunity for them to go out there and make themselves, their families, and the country proud,” noted Whitmore.

    “Panama is always a tough team, both physically and mentally, so we just have to prepare ourselves, and I don’t think they [Panama] can want this game [win] more than us, as we have not beaten them in 10 years.”

    Whitmore’s team has been progressing since the start of the tournament when they opened with a 3-2 win over Honduras in Kingston’s National Stadium. Though they earned the much-need three points in that encounter, it was common knowledge that they underperformed, especially in defence where they conceded sloppy goals.

    The team’s transition from defence to attack also stuttered in that game and outside of the three goals, very little chances were created.

    Against El Salvador, in what was a forgetful first half where neither goalkeeper had anything serious to do, Jamaica only came alive on the introduction of Shamar Nicholson and Darren Mattocks midway the second half.

    Whitmore then said he was still searching for a more fluent midfield combination, and as such, he made four changes against Curacao and the team responded by creating numerous chances, even as they proved wasteful by converting merely one chance.

    At a near 90-minute training session at NovaCare Complex yesterday morning, Whitmore reserved time for his attackers, finishing build-up plays in the final third. He also concentrated on defending.

    “It was a lot of functional plays, finishing, defending,” explained Whitmore.

    “They executed well, but then again it is on the day [of the match] that I hope they do execute well, and those missed chances against Curacao they can capitalise on against Panama.”

    Also at yesterday’s session, all 23 players took part, including Damion Lowe, who was forced out of the game against Curacao with a back injury. Lowe joined his teammates in the warm-up session conducted by trainer Lamar Morgan, but opted out of the remainder of the schedule.

    Meanwhile, Leon Bailey, who was missing from training the previous day, was said to have overslept. He took part in the entire session and at the end had ice strapped to the right foot.

    “My leg is alright, it’s coming on better and better every day, and we are just taking it step by step and I think I’ll be fit for the next game,” Bailey said.

    “Training was good today (yesterday), it was a little bit rough [on the foot], but it’s feeling way better than before, so we are just looking forward to the next game,” the Bayer Leverkusen winger added.

    Whitmore was also pleased to have had everybody nearing full fitness.

    “That’s a plus for any technical staff to have everybody fully fit and ready, and it is our job to select the team, so all I need is for everybody to be sharp and ready for the game on Sunday and try and be a part of history.”

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