Jamaica’s Whitmore looks back on past Saudi Arabia test

Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore (pictured) faced Saudi Arabia as a player in 1998. (Photo: AFP Services)

KINGSTON, Jamaica – On May 4, 1998, Theodore Whitmore suited up for Jamaica in a pre-World Cup friendly against Saudi Arabia.

Now, at 45-years-old, Whitmore will face the Saudis once again, but this time as the Reggae Boyz's head coach. The sides will meet on October 7 at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.

Whitmore has good memories of that scoreless encounter contested nearly 20 years ago, and slightly more than a month before the Jamaicans met Croatia in their first-ever World Cup game.

“That game versus Saudi Arabia in 1998 was a dress rehearsal for the 1998 FIFA World Cup,” he said. “The energy level, the mood in the camp, the chemistry in the team was great. The Saudis gave us a stern test. They don’t lose the ball easily and defensively they don’t give you much space to work with. There was a bit of nerves because this was a team who came second in the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup and who went to the 1994 FIFA World Cup and did well so we knew it would be tough so to get a draw for us felt special.

“Almost two decades later, they have a similar style and philosophy. Despite that they have not gone to the World Cup since 2006, they are still one of the top notch teams in Asia and this upcoming friendly against them I can only see positives from it for us.”

Whitmore, who guided Jamaica to a runner-up finish in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, says that locally-based players will have another opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

“I feel that away games can only improve our local players mentally and physically,” finished the former Tranmere Rovers midfielder. “The travel, the training, being in an environment with over 70,000 people in the stadium can only help them prepare for the rigors of football, so I look at this as a win-win for us. The more we continue to play friendlies, the more we can develop as a unit and continue with our good displays.”