Check out my preview guide to the Caribbean Cup semi-finals as defending champions Jamaica take on French Guiana and hosts Martinique face Curacao…
Jamaica vs French Guiana
The Reggae Boyz are in pursuit of their seventh Caribbean Cup title having won the last tournament in 2014, overcoming rivals Trinidad & Tobago in a tense penalty shoot-out in Montego Bay. It seems as if Jamaican football is going through a rebuilding phase at present following a very underwhelming 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, with Theodore Whitmore installed as head coach at the backend of last year and a new emphasis on giving more Red Stripe Premier League players an opportunity to showcase their abilities at international level. That is clear when you analyse the squad: 11 are based locally, seven from the United States and two from Europe. A few UK-based players were contacted by the JFF but Adrian Mariappa and Wes Morgan are nursing injuries while Michael Hector was unavailable for selection. There are quite a lot of newcomers to this Jamaican team or players who have limited international experience, meaning they have not had much time to gel as a unit. Preparation has also not been ideal – they played two friendlies against the United States (1-0 loss) and Honduras (1-0 win) in February although their opponents fielded weakened lineups. More recently they lost to local side Reno FC, 2-1, in a low-key warm-up game and Peru, 3-1, away in South America in high altitude. As reported by the Jamaica Observer, the squad’s journey to Martinique for this tournament was logistically challenging with multiple connecting flights from various locations involved. Jamaica were given a bye to the final round of qualifying so they didn’t enter the competition until October, when they came from behind to beat Guyana, 2-4 AET, and Suriname, 1-0, in November due to rescheduling forced by Hurricane Matthew. They played with one man less for much of that game against Suriname, too, as Damion Lowe was red carded in the first half.
In Jamaica’s way will be French Guiana, who are making their fourth appearance at the Caribbean Cup. Last time around they qualified for the CFU-UNCAF playoff and were so close to making their first Gold Cup, but Honduras beat them to it with a narrow 4-3 win on aggregate across two legs. This year the country located in South America will make their Gold Cup bow, though, having accumulated four wins from their six qualifiers, including a memorable 5-2 victory over Haiti in Port-au-Prince last November. The manager Jair Karam has called up 12 players from overseas, although he probably would have liked more as he travelled around France last month trying to persuade numerous French clubs to release their French Guianese players for this tournament. The likes of Ludovic Baal, Sloan Privat, Josue Albert, Anthony Soubervie and Simon Falette have missed out. But there are three new additions to the group and they are Guingamp’s Shaquille Dutard, Thomas Issorat who plays in Belgium and former France and Chelsea playmaker Florent Malouda, called up to represent his country of birth. These players will complement the local-based group, contracted to clubs in the local top-flight. Just last weekend, French Guiana took on Barbados in a warm-up friendly and ran out 3-0 winners on home soil.
Jamaica have to be classed as favourites in this one on the basis that they’re reigning champions and have been to the Caribbean Cup many more times than their opponents. French Guiana have demonstrated that they’re no pushovers, though, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. With the recent passing of Captain Horace Burrell, I expect the Jamaican players to be especially fired up and progress to the final in what promises to be a tight encounter.
Martinique vs Curacao
Caribbean Cup winners in 1993 and runners-up the following year, Martinique will fancy their chances in this semi-final clash – spurred on by their home support at the Stade Pierre-Aliker. Just over half of the 23-man squad called up by head coach Jean-Marc Civault ply their trade overseas, ranging from Spain to Greece and Israel to the United States. According to Martinique1ere, several French-born players with Martiniquais heritage – such as Kenny Lala, Kevine Fortune (both RC Lens), William Vainqueur (Marseille), Jimmy Briand (Guingamp), Christophe Herelle (Troyes), Sylvain Marveaux (Lorient) and Joris Marveaux (Montpellier) – were approached by Martinique in an attempt to further enhance their squad, but the respective clubs reportedly refused to release their players as the tournament isn’t during a FIFA window and Martinique themselves are not affiliated to FIFA. The rest of the players are based locally with Golden Lion’s Kevin Parsemain, a prolific attacker whose goal scoring record for the national team is very good indeed, arguably the pick of the bunch. Qualifying was pretty straightforward for Martinique as they won 17-2 on aggregate across their six qualifiers, beating rivals Guadeloupe, 2-0, and regional powerhouses Trinidad & Tobago, 2-0 AET, along the way.
For those of you who watched my Caribbean Cup video preview on Reggae Boyz Commentary, you will know that I have Curacao down as champions this year. Their squad is packed with overseas experience – 19 of the 23 players called up play their club football outside of Curacao – with the likes of Cuco Martina and Leandro Bacuna boasting strong pedigree at this level. The national team have made impressive strides over the last 12 months or so, climbing up the FIFA rankings and securing a place in the Gold Cup for the first time (since the Netherlands Antilles dissolved). Former manager Patrick Kluivert brought a new level of professionalism to the setup and his successor Remko Bicentini has carried that on, continuing to promote a possession-based game which involves playing out from the back. The only drawback is that Curacao can occasionally overplay the ball in certain areas of the pitch which makes them susceptible to quick counter-attacks. Qualifying was a little bumpy at the start with a defeat away to Barbados but they then picked up five straight victories after that to assure their place in the semi-finals. There is a solid spine to the team when everyone is fit: Eloy Room in goal, Martina and Darryl Lachman in defence, Bacuna and Kemy Agustien or Shanon Carmelia in midfield and typically Rangelo Janga up front, with competition coming from Felitciano Zschusschen and Gino van Kessel who both scored a combined total of 14 goals in qualifying. In the recent friendlies against Canada (2-1 loss) and Nicaragua (0-0), however, Bicentini went with Martina at right-back and Quentin Jakoba partnering Lachman in the heart of defence in a 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1 respectively.
This promises to be a very entertaining game as the side with the best defensive record from qualifying, Martinique, go up against the highest-scoring nation from qualifying, Curacao. For me, the Dutch-speaking island will come out on top and qualify for the final, where I believe they’ll take the overall title.
By Nathan Carr
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