MIAMI, Florida – In the last five years, the Jamaican National Team has enjoyed their fair share of history.
The Reggae Boyz became the first Caribbean team to reach a Concacaf Gold Cup Final in 2015 after a 2-1 win over the United States in the semifinals.
Two years later in the 2017 edition, Jamaica returned to the Final before falling 2-1 in the Final to the U.S. In the 2019 Gold Cup, Jamaica joined the U.S., Mexico, Honduras and Panama as the only nations to have qualified for three straight Gold Cup semifinals.
Those 2017 and 2019 Jamaica teams achieved their success under the guidance of current Head Coach Theodore Whitmore, who is very much a Jamaica legend in his own right.
In fact, it could be said that the Jamaica teams of today were inspired by the likes of Whitmore and his generation of Jamaica players, who helped the island nation to its greatest accomplishment in international football by qualifying for its first ever FIFA World Cup for France 1998.
It was not an auspicious start for Jamaica in the fourth and final round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying for France 1998. Through the first four matches, Jamaica had accumulated just two points.
A week after a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica, Jamaica faced a must-win situation at home against El Salvador, which proved to be the start of an unforgettable wave of success thanks in large part to the Jamaican people.
“It was a simple belief and the hunger of the players, along with the off-field support,” said Whitmore in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com. “So the games were mainly won off the field.”
Jamaica would go on to claim a 1-0 victory over the Cuscatlecos, kick-starting a six-match unbeaten run that included a pair of 1-0 wins over Canada and Costa Rica, a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to the United States and a pivotal 2-2 draw at El Salvador.
That set the stage for a dramatic final matchday in which Jamaica faced a Mexico side that had defeated the Reggae Boyz 6-0 earlier that year in the Estadio Azteca of Mexico City.
But in front of a packed house at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica earned a 0-0 draw that secured their place at France 1998 and set off an unparalleled celebration.
“It was overwhelming to see the hard work pay off and we actually achieved what we set out to do, which was to qualify for France ’98,” said Whitmore.
While Whitmore did not find the back of the net during that Concacaf WCQ cycle, the former forward would make history that following summer at the World Cup.
In Jamaica’s group stage finale versus Japan, Whitmore scored a pair of goals to lead the Reggae Boyz to their first World Cup triumph in a 2-1 final. Yet when he reflects on that summer in France 22 years ago, it was the moment when he first heard Jamaica’s national anthem at a World Cup that Whitmore will forever cherish.
“I felt a sense of pride, patriotism to see a little Caribbean country like Jamaica representing on the world stage with the likes of bigger nation,” concluded Whitmore.