Hallgrimsson calls Copa America participation a privilege for Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Jamaica’s national senior men’s football team head coach, Iceland’s Heimir Hallgrimsson, said it is a privilege for the Reggae Boyz to participate in the Copa America competition.

Jamaica will make their third appearance in the Copa America and will be the only Caribbean nation in the 2024 edition. The tournament kicked off on Thursday with Lionel Messi’s passing brilliance got Argentina off to a winning start in the defense of their title, overcoming Canada 2-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Jamaica begin their campaign against reigning Concacaf Gold Cup champions Mexico in the first all-Concacaf matchup of the tournament on Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, with kickoff scheduled for 8:00 pm Jamaica time.

Mexico and Jamaica are grouped with Ecuador and Venezuela, with the group winner advancing to a quarterfinal against the second-place team from Argentina’s Group A (Canada, Chile, Peru).

Hallgrimsson will hope it’s a case of seventh-time lucky for the Reggae Boyz in the Group B opener.  The Reggae Boyz’ previous Copa America outings have ended in six losses from six matches. In contrast, Mexico will make their 11th appearance, having played 49 matches, the most by any Concacaf nation. Mexico’s best finishes were runner-up in 1993 and 2001, with five semifinal appearances.

Mexico will look to win a second continental trophy in consecutive years under head coach Jaime Lozano.

Santiago Gimenez, the author of Mexico’s winning goal in the 2023 Gold Cup final, will be one of the target men for goals. Edson Alvarez will wear the captain’s armband as a man of experience with two Gold Cup titles and a multiple-time Concacaf Best XI selection.

Like Mexico, the Reggae Boyz qualified for the tournament by reaching the 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League finals.

The Reggae Boyz are without Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, who opted against playing in the Copa America despite being called up as his dispute with the Jamaica Football Federation continues.

“In this case, he [Bailey] decided not to play for Jamaica. That’s his decision and that’s every player’s right to refuse to play for their nation. He opted to do that and that’s the end of the story for me, absolutely the end of story. Now, I would just want everyone to focus on those players who want to play for Jamaica, and let’s put our support and focus on those players,” Hallgrimsson said last week.

Hallgrimsson has called up a formidable squad with names like Fulham’s Bobby Decordova-Reid, West Ham’s Michail Antonio, and Clermont striker Shamar Nicholson. Gold Cup Best XI Demarai Gray is another top player who will occupy the attention of the Mexican defense.

Mexico are undefeated in all but one of their 11 official encounters at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Their last match against Jamaica at this venue was a 1-0 victory during the 2005 Gold Cup group stage. This will be their second Copa America encounter, the first being in 2016 where Mexico won 2-0.

Mexico are favorites but have lost three of their past four matches, which might unsettle Lozano’s side. In contrast, Jamaica have won three consecutive matches, including a 1-0 victory over Panama and World Cup qualifying wins against Dominica and the Dominican Republic.