I must admit to being quite discombobulated and confused as I try to begin the analysis of the Reggae Boyz shock defeat at home to lowly Nicaragua in the first game of the 2018 World Cup qualification. There were simply so many things that went wrong for Jamaica heading into and during that game, beginning with the fundamental error that took place well before last Friday night’s game. The decision by the JFF and or the coaching staff not to have played a single game at our home venue for more than two years is as brainless and as naive a decision as anyone could have taken, considering that home advantage is so vital in football generally, but especially in World Cup qualifying. The psychological and physical advantage of playing at home were basically surrendered by that foolhardy decision. Tactically, head coach Winfried Schafer and company must have been stone drunk from the recent Gold Cup performances to have entered the game with such arrogance and naivety. The fact that this is a home-and-away tie against a team that they knew very little about, and with so much at stake, means that the priority must have been to keep your defensive shape, for as long as it would have taken, to assess the Nicaraguans, instead of darting up the field, and like some immature schoolboys, totally losing their shape and discipline. To go three-nil down at home in a World Cup qualifier to a team ranked 80-odd places below us on the FIFA rankings is inexcusable and under normal circumstances would be a dismissible offence by any coach in any self-respecting football jurisdiction. The actual set-up of the team by Schafer and his staff was simply befuddling. The hype surrounding young defender Michael Hector’s recent signing by English Premier League champions Chelsea must have further intoxicated the Jamaican coaching staff. The fact is that this columnist and many other astute football observers have seen that Hector is an awkward liability in the defensive third whenever the ball is at his feet. His first, second, third, fourth, and fifth touches are equally atrocious. Despite the Chelsea buy and the reasons behind it, almost everyone except the Jamaican coaching staff has seen that Hector is an accident waiting to happen, the more he is asked to control, dribble, and pass the football. Yet Schafer and company put him to play as basically the last defender, doing most of the ball handling in that delicate defensive area, easily one of the daftest tactical decisions ever seen at this level of football. Not only is Adrian Marriappa a senior pro compared to Hector, but the Crystal Palace man is much more comfortable with the ball at his feet, while Hector’s strengths are tacking higher up the park, reading and intercepting passes, and winning headers. That logical switch of positions between the two never took place in the entire 90 minutes. I found it very instructive that Schafer hardly moved from his seat on the bench during the game. He was definitely not the Schafer we saw at the Gold Cup, who was so consumed with passion and intensity. On Friday night, with the Jamaica team staring smack down the barrel of a World Cup embarrassment, Schafer remained slumped in his seat for most of the game, with his assistant, Miguel Coley, being the one expressing the requisite concerns. Based on all we saw in that first-leg game against Nicaragua, an embarrassing first-round exit is certainly on the cards. Jamaica will need to win by two clear goals in Managua tonight to avoid that pending disaster. Can Jamaica recover? Most certainly, but it is imperative that the Boyz and especially coach Winfried Schafer be fully awakened from their drunken stupor.
Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has consistently been a major power in world athletics. Its combined strength on the track and in the field crystallised in 2013, when the World Championships were held in Moscow. Powered by vociferous home support, Russia topped the medal table with seven gold medals in their haul of 17. Just two years later at the World Championships, Russia plummeted to ninth with just four medals, including two of the golden variety. The reasons for the fall of the Russians have become clear in recent months. Sadly, as indicated by a recent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report, there was manipulation of the drug testing process in Russia. The fall was fast. Even as recently as 2014, Russia placed fourth on the medal table at the European Championships. Great Britain, the top team, took home just one medal more than the Russians. In Beijing, host of this year’s World Championships, the Russian effort paled in comparison to past performances. Many fans made the comparison and wondered. The answers have emerged from a WADA team that visited Russia and it isn’t a pretty sight. NEW ATHLETIC CHIEF Since then, Russia has appointed a new athletics chief and fired coaches who have been implicated. When the full WADA report is published, it will show how much more needs to be done to completely clean up things in Russia. If that’s the end of the trauma athletics has to face, that would be acceptable. The worry is that French investigations of ex-IAAF President Lamine Diack will unearth problems elsewhere. All we can do is wait and see. Athletes who lost medals to drug-powered Russians will also face a long wait. When Marion Jones of the United States of America (USA) finally lost her gold for the 2000 Olympic 100/200 double, no one would guess that even now, some of those medals would not be awarded. With Jones out, the gold fell naturally to Ekaterina Thanou of Greece. She ran into drug-related troubles in 2004, but Tayna Lawrence, who crossed the line third in 2000, hasn’t got the gold yet. So those affected by the Russian misdeeds may need to be very patient. – Hubert Lawrence has made notes by track side since 1980.