Reg­gae Boyz want the gold, mon

Not dis­cour­aged by fact Mexico is heav­ily favoured in Gold Cup fi­nal

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - SOCCER - By Rachel Co­hen

PHILADELPHIA — Mexico is the favourite to win its recordex­tend­ing sev­enth CONCACAF Gold Cup ti­tle, and coach Miguel Her­rera is an­swer­ing ques­tions about his fu­ture with the team.

Ja­maica is not only mak­ing its first ap­pear­ance in a Gold Cup fi­nal but the first for any Caribbean na­tion, and its coach, Win­fried Schaefer, is hav­ing to in­sist his squad re­ally is the un­der­dog af­ter it stunned the United States in the semi­fi­nals.

That’s how dif­fer­ent the two coun­tries’ runs were to to­day’s match at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field, home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Ea­gles. Her­rera spoke Satur­day a few hours af­ter CONCACAF ac­knowl­edged the ref­eree made er­rors in Mexico’s semi­fi­nal win over Panama, a game El Tri was about to lose be­fore a dis­puted hand­ball led to a ty­ing penalty kick in sec­ond-half stop­page time.

“We played a good game against Costa Rica and the next game we did badly,” Her­rera said. “But we qual­i­fied to the fi­nal game. I talked a lot with the boys, and we all re­al­ized that we play badly. We have to cor­rect our mis­takes.”

In­deed, Mexico did out­play Costa Rica in the quar­ter-fi­nals, though that game was mo­ments from go­ing to penalty kicks un­til El Tri ben­e­fited from another ques­tion­able call in the last minute of ex­tra time.

Could it hap­pen again in the fi­nal? Schaefer dis­missed such talk, in­censed Panama has im­plied the ref­er­ees were crooked. “I trust our ref­er­ees,” he said. The only way Mexico has been able to score dur­ing the knock­out rounds is on penalty kicks.

“It seems that ev­ery­thing is bad,” Her­rera said. “Noth­ing is just good or bad. You are not so bad when you lose and so good when you win.”

Not that has ever kept a coach from los­ing his job. Adding to Mexico’s prob­lems: Car­los Vela is sus­pended be­cause of yel­low-card ac­cu­mu­la­tion, and both dos San­tos broth­ers — Jonathan and Gio­vani — and An­drés Guardado are bat­tling in­juries.

Don’t try to sug­gest that El Tri might be short­handed to Schaefer, Ja­maica’s Ger­man coach.

“There are maybe 1,000 very, very good play­ers in Mexico,” he scoffed.

In fact, Mexico is the fifth-best team in the world, he in­sisted, pre­fer­ring to fo­cus on El Tri’s strong per­for­mance at last year’s World Cup. The matchup is the equiv­a­lent of Ger­many against Lux­em­bourg, added Schaefer, who likes to re­mind ev­ery­one that Ja­maica is a “small is­land.”

No doubt he would love for El Tri to sag un­der the pres­sure of ex­pec­ta­tion to­day. As Schaefer sum­ma­rized the men­tal­ity his op­po­nent faces back home: “Mexico can­not lose against us.”

One mo­ment, the be­spec­ta­cled coach with the wild white hair was talk­ing up the great­ness of the other team. The next, he was ex­plain­ing why Ja­maica will be go­ing af­ter the vic­tory against Mexico to­day.

“It is not my style — I don’t not want to lose; I want to win,” Schaefer said.

He texted his play­ers they could win the Gold Cup af­ter a Ja­maica squad took part in Copa Amer­ica ear­lier this sum­mer. The Reg­gae Boyz lost all three of their games, but they were all by 1- 0 scores against Ar­gentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

“Our small is­land was bet­ter than Uruguay,” Schaefer said Satur­day.

And he hopes its per­for­mance in this tour­na­ment will make it bet­ter and bet­ter in the fu­ture. Schaefer said he sent a video of Wed­nes­day’s postgame cel­e­bra­tion to three play­ers in Eng­land who are con­sid­er­ing suit­ing up for Ja­maica. A big part of his team’s suc­cess is play­ers born and raised in Eng­land and de­vel­oped by clubs there who are el­i­gi­ble to play for Ja­maica be­cause of fam­ily con­nec­tions.

Back on that small is­land of about 2.9 mil­lion peo­ple, beat­ing the world’s best in sports is noth­ing new — it’s just usu­ally in track and field.

“I hope the kids now have new idols,” Schaefer said. Not just Usain Bolt. Af­ter see­ing Ja­maica score both its goals against the U.S. on set pieces, Mexico de­fender Diego Reyes is well aware of the prob­lems its size and speed can cre­ate.

“We have to be very care­ful on all of them,” he said.

Or Ja­maica will shock another CONCACAF power.

“No­body de­serves it more than my team,” Schaefer said.

AARON VIN­CENT ELKAIM / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Ja­maica’s Je-Vaughn Wat­son bat­tles for the ball against El Salvador’s Ar­turo Alvarez dur­ing the CONCACAF Gold Cup match in Toronto.

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