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Jamaica Vows Success, Despite Odds

June 2, 1998

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Jamaica is likely to be the novelty act of the World Cup, just as Cameroon was in Italy in 1990. It also wants to emulate Cameroon’s performance by reaching the quarterfinals.

At 1,000-1 odds to win the World Cup, Jamaica is given scant chance of even making it to the second round. But the underdog tag is something the ``Reggae Boyz″ have used to their advantage.

Relying on stingy defense, Jamaica has been anything but pushovers for soccer giants like Brazil and up-and-comers such as the United States. In their qualifying campaign, the Jamaicans amassed an unbeaten home record of 30 matches over three years.

Coach Rene Simoes, a Brazilian import, insists his team isn’t built around stars. But the Jamaicans have more than their share of individual flair.

In Deon Burton, who plays for Derby County in the English Premier League, they have a goal-hungry forward with opportunistic instincts.

Overlapping fullback Ricardo Gardener, who scored in a 1-0 upset win over Colombia last August, could be a sensation in France.

With a reggae theme song and even a Jamaican tourism campaign built around them, the ``Reggae Boyz″ certainly are colorful. Offensive-minded they are not, scoring two or more goals only five times in their 20 qualifying games.

Still, Simoes is credited with transforming Jamaican soccer and making the nation capable of becoming the first Caribbean team to reach the finals since Haiti in 1974.

A youth coach in Brazil, Simoes became Jamaica’s technical director in late 1994 and courted businesses to get his program off the ground.

Jamaica’s fortunes rose in 1995 when wins over higher-rated opponents like Zambia and Mexico earned it FIFA’s Best Mover award.

That type of form paid off in October, when a 0-0 tie with Mexico earned Jamaica the third qualifying spot in the CONCACAF zone. Jamaica won nine of its last 16 matches, beating Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica along the way. Jamaica also tied crucial away games against the United States, Canada and Honduras.

The pre-Cup run peaked in February, when Jamaica held defending world champion Brazil to a 0-0 tie in the Gold Cup.

Jamaica has stumbled since, producing no fireworks against Iran, South Korea and Macedonia. At home, Simoes was harshly criticized for giving eight spots in his 24-man lineup to England-based players of Jamaican heritage, including defender Danny Maddix of Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea wingback Frank Sinclair.

``I don’t care what people think. Once they are good players and can fit in they will play,″ Simoes said. ``If the squad that I have does not improve, I have to look elsewhere.″

Jamaica plays another first-timer, Croatia, on June 14 and has two-time titlist Argentina and another debuting team, Japan, to contend with. Simoes says his squad will be ready.

``We’re not going there to promote tourism,″ he said.

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