World Cup Group H 25 years on
Rivals litter World Cup history books, while Reggae Boyz stagnant
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago on November 16, Jamaica secured its first trip to the FIFA World Cup, with a 0-0 draw against Mexico inside the National Stadium.
The accomplishment fulfilled a promise by then Jamaica Football Federation President Horace Burrell, that a properly funded national programme would see Jamaica join football’s elite.
The success took the Reggae Boyz to France in 1998 but Group H was inhospitable. Croatia beat the Boyz 3-1, though a header by Robbie Earle from a Ricardo Gardner cross made the result more respectable.
Argentina, the champion team in 1978 and 1986, slammed in five with no reply. The last group came brought relief. Two goals from Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore gave Jamaica a 2-1 win over Japan.
As a measure of how tough Group H was, Croatia reached the semifinals.
There have been no further World Cup appearances for Jamaica, but Argentina, Croatia and Japan have all been back. In fact, all three of Jamaica’s 1998 opponents were at the very next tournament in 2002.
The Argentines were eliminated at the preliminary group stage in 2002 but reached the knockout stage in every appearance since.
Germany beat them 4-0 in the 2010 quarterfinals and in the 2014 final, thanks to a strike by Mario Gotze in the 113th minute of play.
In 2018, Argentina were second to Croatia in group play but then lost to eventual winners France, 3-4 in the round of 16.
Croatia crashed out at the group stage in 2002, missed qualification for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments and packed for home after the group stage in 2014.
In 2018, the indefatiguable Croats won their group, with Argentina second, then edged both Denmark in the round of 16 and host Russia in the quarterfinals on penalties before needing extra time to survive against England 2-1 in the semifinal.
France won the final 4-2.
Japan jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea but performed well. The Land of the Rising Sun has earned the respect of the football world by reaching the knockout stage at home, and in 2010 and 2018 as well and by qualifying in 2006 and 2014.
Turkey stopped the Japanese in 2002, with a 3-5 penalty loss to Paraguay bringing the curtain down in 2010 and Belgium bouncing the Japanese in 2018, all in the round of 16.
Some Jamaicans are too young to know the euphoria the Boyz caused on November 16, 1997, but perhaps their turn will come.
Older compatriots may well watch Argentina, Croatia and Japan at the 2022 World Cup with admiration and perhaps a little bit of envy.