June 17 – In a traditionally cricket-mad nation, football takes centre stage later today when the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica host a Gold Cup match for the first time ever, taking on Honduras in both team’s Group C opener as the tournament takes the Caribbean by storm.
Only one team in Concacaf history has made back-to-back Gold Cup finals other than Mexico or the United States. It happens to be the Jamaicans but can they make it third time lucky and lift the title?
In a warmup game earlier this month, Jamaica beat a weakened, experimental United States 1-0, only their third win over the US in 26 meetings and a huge confidence boost ahead of tonight’s history-making encounter on home soil against their groups top seeded nation Honduras.
Jamaica are only be sixth favourite for the title among the 16 participants but head coach Theodore Whitmore, whose wealth of experience has seen him play in three Gold Cup competitions, has brought in some new and exciting talents, not least 21-year-old winger Leon Bailey who plies his trade in the German top flight with Bayer Leverkusen and was once a target for Manchester united.
Bailey missed the win over the USA in Washington DC because of a hamstring injury but is expected to start against highly-rated Honduras. If Jamaica can claim all three points it could spark serious momentum in their bid to go one better than 2015 and 2017 when they were runners-up to Mexico and the United States respectively.
Whilst Honduras’ eagerly awaited showdown with El Salvador is undoubtedly their most eye-catching group fixture (the two countries actually briefly went to war in 1969 over football, such is their rivalry) they need to get off to a strong start to be considered genuine contenders.
Honduras’ Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis knows how important today’s opener is in terms of determining whether his country can make a deep run into the competition – further than the quarterfinals in 2017.
“I feel good, we are going to bring our best to this tournament,” Elis said. “We want to make history … and go home with the cup.”
Honduras will play their second group game against Curacao on June 21 at BBVA Stadium in Houston, familiar territory for the country’s MLS players, who also includes Elis’ Dynamo teammates Romell Quioto and Maynor Figueroa.
“I think that gives us the advantage. We know the field really well, and we hope to put that on display when we play here,” Elis said. “We look forward to a good crowd and giving them a victory.”
Skipper Figueroa echoed those sentiments. Despite the team’s recent 7-0 defeat to Brazil, he anticipates a solid showing under new coach Fabian Coito.
“It’s very special because you’re representing more than 8 million people,” Figueora said. “We are a soccer country. When we get called up to the national team, we know the responsibility we have. “
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