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Blake leads Jamaica's bid for Gold Cup glory

TRIUMPHANT: Andre Blake scooped the best goalkeeper award at the last Gold Cup tournament

ANDRE BLAKE will be aiming to make it third time lucky for Jamaica in their bid to make it a third CONCACAF Gold Cup final on the bounce.

The Philadelphia Union ace, who scooped the best goalkeeper award at the last Gold Cup tournament, returns for his third shot at triumphing and this time is captain of Jamaica's Reggae Boyz.

With 16 teams taking part for the first time, the lucrative tournament begins on June 15 with Canada facing Martinique. Mexico are favourites to triumph, slightly ahead of the United States and Jamaica sixth favourites with bookmaker odds of 16-1.

Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore, whose wealth of experience has seen him play in three of the Gold Cup competitions, will be at the helm for the prestigious biennial event for the fourth time.

He has brought in some new and exciting talents, with the most anticipated being 21-year-old midfield maestro Leon Bailey.

The rising star, who plies his trade in the German top flight with Bayer Leverkusen, was an unused substitute in Jamaica's recent 1-0 success over hosts USA in Washington DC because of his hamstring injury.

However, he is expected to make his debut on June 17, when the Boyz tackle highly-rated Honduras in their opening group game on home soil at Kingston's National Stadium. He can be utilised as either a wide midfielder or whizzy winger.

And what will make this extra special for the Boyz is that this will be the first time that the Gold Cup has been played in the Caribbean, with Curaçao also facing El Salvador in Jamaica on the same day.

El Salvador are the Boyz' next opponents at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on 21 June. The sides have recently become familiar with each other, with El Salvador only qualifying for the Gold Cup courtesy of March's shock 2-0 success over the Boyz.

And Jamaica met El Salvador in the past two Gold Cup competitions, which bodes well for those who believe in fate. The Boyz were held to a forgettable 1-1 stalemate in 2017, but registered a slender 1-0 success in 2015. Their games tend to be closely matched, with their defensively-minded meetings focused around a midfield battle.

Jamaica will complete their group against relative minnows Curaçao, who captured the 2017 Caribbean Cup. Their squad includes midfielder Leandro Bacuna and right back Cuco Martina, who both boast vast English Premier League experience.

But for the Boyz their opening match appears to be their toughest Group game on paper. If Jamaica can claim all three points then the victory could spark the momentum to kick-off being a serious contender in the Gold Cup.

The Boyz have competed in 10 Gold Cup tournaments, their best performances and results rewarding them as runner-up to Mexico (2015) and the United States (2017) respectively.

But with Blake as one of the safest pair of hands in the region, thanks to this trademark rapid reflex saves, and the inclusion of Bailey in the squad then the Boyz are buoyant and brimming with new-found confidence after they overturned the United States.

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