In 1994, Jamaica was ranked 96th according to FIFA but edged out more experienced teams such as Costa Rica, Canada, Honduras and El Salvador to earn their place among the 32 finalists in France.
By November 1997, they had climbed to the 39th spot with Simoes' strategy to deter his players away from the British style towards the Brazilian system which was a style that is attractive to the Jamaican psyche. The coach certainly had enough play time exposure with 140 matches over three years to mould and develop team-work.
When the team qualified for the finals, Prime Minister at the time, P.J. Patterson, declared a National Holiday, which also led to celebrations from within the reggae community.
The Reggae Boyz was the appellation given to the Jamaican World Cup Squad in 1998, by no accredited source, but it only made sense as the island breathes the sounds of Reggae and is easily recognized as the birthplace of one of the most influential genres of all time and would have made Bob Marley proud especially since he was so passionate about football and a sound he made universal.
Before even qualifying for the finals, the team undertook a recording session with Sly and Robbie along with Paul Hall, Maxine Booth and a number of vocalists, the result of which was 'Kick It'. But what would eventually become the 'Reggae Boyz anthem' was the collaborative effort dubbed 'Rise Up' comprising of Toots Hibbert, Ziggy Marley, Diana King, Buju Banton, Ini Kamoze, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Tony Rebel, I-Three, Brian Gold, Handel Tucker, Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar and Mikey Bennett.
With their colourful persona and Caribbean charisma oozing from the team's spirit, the Reggae Boyz were one of most popular team entering the World Cup alongside Brazil and the host nation France. The team went to France with a winning attitude, some would say, but not necessarily an attitude to win the overall competition. Being the first English speaking country from the Caribbean to ever qualify for the world cup finals was a win in itself and capitalizing on the opportunity was their intention. They improved with every game and had a very good match against Japan which they won 2-1.
What struck the world over was really the spirit of the Reggae Boyz and the support coming from Jamaica and the Caribbean at large.
Jamaica's football/soccer history
In 1965 under the leadership of Brazilian coach Jorge Penna, Jamaica made its first attempt at World Cup qualifying. This was for the 1966 World Cup finals in England. The preliminary group included Cuba, the Netherlands Antilles, and Jamaica. Jamaica's first game was against Cuba which they won 2-0 at Jamaica's National Stadium. In the qualifying match against the Netherlands Antilles, Jamaica also had a 2-0 victory with both goals coming. In the away games Jamaica was held to a goalless draw with the Netherlands Antilles and suffered a 2-1 defeat to Cuba. Jamaica then advanced to the final group of 3 which included Costa Rica and Mexico. The winner of this group would represent the CONCACAF region. Jamaica lost at home to Mexico 3-2 and in the return leg in Mexico City the high altitude proved too much for the Jamaicans and they were defeated 8-0. Jamaica lost 7-0 to Costa Rica in their first encounter and had a 1-1 tie when they played at home.
In 1968 coach George Hamilton took leadership as Jamaica made an attempt to qualify for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Jamaica had only a couple remaining players from the previous World Cup team and had to rebuild because most of the players had retired or migrated to North America and England. Jamaica lost all of their qualifying games in that year.
Jamaica's participation in the 1974 World Cup elimination saw the suspension of 17 players on the team because of poor behaviour on a tour to Bermuda. Jamaica withdrew from the elimination in order to restructure their team.
The 1978 World Cup in Argentina saw Jamaica playing Cuba and losing 3-1 at the National Stadium and then 2-0 in Havana Cuba. Jamaica did not qualify.
In 1982 Jamaica did not make an attempt for the World Cup Final set in Spain due to insufficient funds and a poorly prepared team. Jamaica did not participate in the 1986 World Cup because suspension for affiliation fees that was due to FIFA.
In preparation for the 1990 World Cup with coach Jeffery Maxwell Jamaica won both preliminary games against Puerto Rico 1-0 in Jamaica and 2-0 at Puerto Rico. The U.S. was the next opponents and was held to a goalless draw. The return leg in the U.S. saw Jamaica losing 5-1 bringing an end to their qualifying attempt.
The United States hosted the World Cup 1994. In qualifying Jamaica beat Puerto Rico 2-1 and was then faced Bermuda, Canada, and El Salvador from which two teams would advance to the final round. Jamaica tied 1-1 with Canada and Bermuda and then lost 2-0 to El Salvador, 1-0 to Canada, 2-1 to El Salvador. Jamaica then beat Bermuda 3-2 but did not qualify.
Under Brazilian Professor Rene Simoes and National coach Carl Brown, the Jamaican team has become a "Powerhouse" in the Caribbean region and received "Best Mover" award by FIFA in 1996. Their ranking continues to change as they get closer to the finals on their road to France.
Jamaica made history in 1998 by becoming the first English speaking country from the Caribbean to ever qualify for the world cup finals. Not only is this a Jamaican experience but claim can be made by English Caribbean to share the pride of the world cup journey.