Shabazz rallies Golden Jaguars to rise above underdog tag
By Akeem Greene
Guyana’s senior men’s national football team, Golden Jaguars, are in Group B of League B in the Concacaf Nations League, and of their three opponents, Haiti and Bermuda are ranked higher.
Haiti is ranked 90th by FIFA and eighth in Concacaf, while Bermuda is 167th and 19th respectively.
For Guyana, they are currently placed 174th by FIFA and 21st in Concacaf, and it is only Montserrat at 178th and 28th, behind the South American nation, but they have a squad built on players based in the United Kingdom.
The ultimate aim of the Golden Jaguars is to qualify for another Gold Cup finals, and a direct spot will come if they top their group.
Furthermore, there is another chance if they finish second place in the group and then contest the Gold Cup preliminaries.
But based on rankings it means Golden Jaguars will have to slay higher-ranked opponents if they are to replicate the journey to a maiden Gold Cup spot in 2019.
Head Coach Jamaal Shabazz is optimistic that based on their belief and commitment of players, they can produce an underdog fairytale, one which mirrors the iconic biblical story of David and Goliath.
“We feel we have prepared. We will not compare preparation with the opponents, we will not compare resources, but we feel we have prepared and we have a firm feeling inside of us. And hopefully, not with a slinging shot, but hopefully with that faith and commitment, and the help of God, we will get the job done.”
The Jaguars, especially the locally-based players, have been in training since January, and they also played six friendly matches, and have two more carded in Trinidad.
On Monday, a preliminary 31-man squad was announced and those players are expected to be encamped in Trinidad from May 20 to 29 where the squad will be trimmed to 26 ahead of the first match on June 4 against Montserrat in the Dominican Republic.
“How often has a lesser army defeated a greater army based on the faith, based on the commitment, and based on the group feeling? I can say strongly, that the group feeling in the team is a very positive one; we have players committed to playing for Guyana and [are] making the necessary sacrifices.
So, where we lack in resources, we certainly want to make up with the right attitude and a sensible and committed approach,” Shabazz, who in his fourth tenure as Jaguars’ Head Coach, further contended.
The seasoned coach felt a lack of expertise in backroom staff “has failed Caribbean coaches” and they [Golden Jaguars] have managed to acquire the services of a strength and conditioning coach, Dillon Palmer.
Additionally, Shabazz indicated the Jaguars have developed a “cohesive approach” to tactics which is influenced by the experienced players.
He highlighted the “high-press” for long periods against Trinidad and Tobago in a recent friendly match as an example of the team evolving.
Criticisms have come in the past on Jaguars’ coaches not making the best use of their player-resource in the ideal position, however, Shabazz said the evolution of football meant players must be adaptable to different roles, noting “that’s part of it, I will say trust me on this and leave the positioning of them up to me.”
The plan for the camp in the twin-island republic is to integrate the United Kingdom-based players who are coming off a long season and use the two practice matches to help the team bond better with an emphasis on trying to develop an approach in attack and defence.