Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdes (left) yells out instructions to Marcos Sanchez during a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Mexico on July 7, 2013. (Photo: Mexsport)
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Jamaica is winless in the final round of FIFA World Cup Qualifying in the CONCACAF region and Panama is undefeated in three matches at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Panama head coach Julio Dely Valdes, however, is quick to caution that Friday’s encounter between the two teams is anything but a sure victory.
“In no way are three points guaranteed tomorrow,” Dely Valdes said at a press conference Thursday. “I’ve seen the list of (Jamaican) players and seeing the images, one wonders why they were not there before? That makes it more complicated.”
If his players require a reminder about how difficult the Reggae Boyz will be, they need just to look back at the Hexagonal’s second matchday on March 22. Jamaica jumped in front, 1-0, on a goal by Marvin Elliott in the 23rd minute, but Luis Henriquez netted the equalizer midway through the second half in Kingston.
Though the Jamaicans have labored recently in qualifying, Dely Valdes expressed concern about their current roster, one that features players competing in England, Russia, Sweden and Germany.
“From the beginning I stated that it would be difficult, but from what I’ve seen there is increased concern about the ability of those players who are more senior,” he said.
While three points aren’t necessary to stay in contention for one of CONCACAF’s three automatic qualifying places for Brazil 2014, they would be extremely helpful to the Panamanian cause. The Canaleros currently sit in fifth place after six matches and two of their final three qualifying matches are on the road against teams in the two places directly above them in the table -- Honduras and Mexico.
“Tomorrow, we will try to make a good game for Panama,” Dely Valdes said. “But the important thing is to win and the result. No matter who you play, in the end when the referee whistles, the outcome is favorable for us.”
Panama is looking to bounce back from consecutive 2-0 road defeats to the United States and Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying, but will no doubt be buoyed by a strong performance at July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. It defeated Mexico twice on the way to an appearance in the final against the Americans, who lifted the trophy after a 1-0 win at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Jamaica, meanwhile, is searching for its first victory of the fourth round and has just two points from six matches.
“We must go to Panama confident, with power,” new Jamaican head coach Winfried Schafer stated. “I want players who have heart for Jamaica … if they don’t have heart, I don’t want them.”