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Give U-20s maximum backing

The Under-20 men's football team continue to keep the nation's hopes alive in its quest to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Egypt, that will run from September 25 to October 16 later this year.

They accomplished this task in somewhat admirable circumstances, by claiming the automatic spot from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) semi-finals with a top place finish in their group that also included Haiti, the Dominican Republic and hosts St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Admirable advance

What made the advance more admirable is the fact that they beat off the challenge of the hosts for the number one spot, as they won a must-win decider 2-0 over St Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday night.

The Vincentians had won their opening two games, including a surprise 1-0 result over more fancied Haiti, to accumulate six points, while Jamaica had drawn 1-1 with Haiti and dispatched the Dominican Republic 4-1.

The advantage of playing as a host cannot be underestimated - regardless of the disparity in rankings between countries, so Jamaica's win was quite huge and says a great deal about the team's stature.

Headlining that group is a cast of quality strikers, led by Alanzo Adlam, who stepped up big time and scored in every match of the qualifying series in St Vincent while tallying five goals, as well as Dever Orgill, who is now playing semi-pro football in North America.

Also included in the group are Evan Taylor and Davion Thorpe, who were in the Reggae Boyz set-up for the first half of the senior Reggae Boyz's World Cup qualifying campaign.

This is not mentioned here to agree with their inclusion at that crucial stage of senior World Cup qualifying.

What it did, however, was provide exposure and experience in big-game situations and environments that would have served them very well to be leaders among their group in this qualifying campaign. Besides quality, such assets make a huge difference.

Jamaican youth teams have always had potential and were largely comparative and competitive with their leading age group counterparts in CONCACAF.

However, they generally failed, marginally, owing to a lack of experience in international competition.

When Jamaica qualified for the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup Finals in 1999 and 2001 in New Zealand and Argentina, respectively, a significant amount of maturity was moulded into that grouping with tours to Brazil, North America and Europe.

Benefits of exposure

The benefits of such exposure are vastly significant and would have played a key role in pushing the country over the hump into what was then uncharted World Cup territory.

The next stage of qualifying for this current crop of Under-20s will run from March 6-15 - the CONCACAF Final play-offs which consists of eight teams divided evenly into two groups.

There is still time and no effort should be spared in enhancing their preparation with some high level practice matches.

The Jamaica Football Federation is strapped for cash and had to cut staff recently, but it will have to work overtime as no effort should be spared to generate the funding that is necessary to drive this cause.

At this juncture, these youngsters represent the last chance at World Cup - a level of success that brings huge financial rewards through cash allowances for qualifying from FIFA, the sport's world governing body.

Cash apart, it would continue rebuilding the sport's stature that was badly affected by the senior Reggae Boyz's World Cup qualifying failure. The men's and women's national Under-17 teams, as well as women's Under-20, were other teams that promised much but narrowly missed out.

At the Under-17 level, many of these same players were part of the team that almost made it to the World Cup just a couple years back.

With youth football powerhouse the United States, El Salvador and the winner of the Honduras-St Vincent and the Grenadines play-off drawn in Jamaica's group, the Young Reggae Boyz have a live shot at qualifying.

Give them the push they need to get over the hump.