Antiguan slip-up haunting Boyz
FROM THE SPORTS DESK
THE dreaded has again occurred and the Reggae Boyz will enter another WCQ final-round fixture without being masters of their own destiny and having to depend on results elsewhere.
In fact, they probably lost both the plot and the game when careless defending gifted the wily fox, Carlos Ruiz, a last-gasp header in Guatemala City on Friday night, giving the home team an important 2-1 win.
As it stands, the Boyz, on seven points, trail both Guatemala and the United States by three after the latest exchanges in Group A of the CONCACAF semi-final round and can end with a maximum of 10, provided they beat Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) on Tuesday.
In fact, they have to win handsomely at 'The Office' — by at least four goals — and pray for a USA or Guatemala victory to advance on goal difference. A draw involving
the latter two will signal curtains
Ahead of this week's crucial home encounter that could see the team's 'Road to Rio Campaign' come to a grinding halt, the Jamaicans no doubt rue the missed opportunities against Guatemala last Friday. Playing in front of a partisan home crowd, the Boyz nevertheless got a plethora of goal-scoring chances in both halves, with Luton Shelton being the principal culprit on at least
Added to this was the inept defending this space has perennially bemoaned and which has been on display since the earlier rounds when they allowed Guatemala to pull one back late in the game in Kingston, thus contributing to the goal difference deficit at this critical stage of the competition.
In fact, both strikes in this latest match resulted from poor defending. First, a retreating and bungling defence allowed Carlos Figueroa to waltz past at least four players just outside the box, forcing goalkeeper Dwayne Miller to unwisely commit himself. This was a prototype of the goal scored by the US at the National Stadium when the Boyz backed off and allowed their opponents to split the middle of their defence in the opening seconds.
Secondly, with at least eight Jamaican players awaiting a corner kick, Ruiz somehow got in between players and unleashed a header that broke Jamaican hearts while renewing hope of a first ever World Cup Finals appearance for the unfashionable Central American side.
Never mind that the Jamaican team on the whole looked composed on Friday and that Jermaine Hue was as comfortable and masterful in the middle as he always is. In fact, I daresay Hue was my man of the match within the team, with his passing percentage no doubt in the high 90s and his command of the park a testimony to confidence, vision and maturity.
But how did we come to this 'make or break' predicament in this semi-final round which was presumed a mere formality in the first place? Here, it must be remembered that we've had the measure of Guatemala for years and were expected to easily advance from this group, along with the US, with A&B presumably a walkover.
However, we took the Antiguans lightly and then dared shrug off the shock draw in St John's a few months aback, citing all sorts of excuses, including the presence of a cricket pitch on the field when we failed to put away myriad chances.
Those dropped points are proving to be the crucial determinant in this group, with the Boyz being the only side to have gifted anything to the improving Antiguans throughout the closely-contested campaign.
The sad irony is that in all fairness, Theodore Whitmore's side looked really good on Friday, especially in the second half, and were clearly a class above their opponents. Further, they enjoyed long periods of dominance and their flair and ability were without question. As we did against the US, however, we were made to pay dearly for simple mistakes, with Miller's parrying of an innocuous shot our ultimate undoing.
Even though we are realistically on our way out of the 2014 WC campaign, Jamaica can ill-afford this at this critical point in our programme and will continue to hope for a miracle. Former JFF general secretary Horace Reid said it best in a report carried in this newspaper last week.
Reid, who will shortly be a full-time employee with regional football authority CONCACAF, asserted that missing out on the final phase of WCQ will have set back the local programme at least 10 years.
Said Reid: "It's very difficult for the (Jamaica) Football Federation to exist and to be able to manage and to do all the things we need to do if we crash out before we get to the next round, and this we have seen in the last two campaigns, because what it means from a financial standpoint is that we would have an extremely long tamarind season and when you are talking about servicing nine national teams and the senior men's team is the sole breadwinner of the other eight, it is very important from
"For us to reposition our football on the international stage we would definitely lose a lot of ground should we not advance," he added.
Maybe the gods will smile on the Reggae Boyz on Tuesday and the chips will fall favourably. The lessons to be learnt, however, while serving us well for the future, will do little to quell the disappointment the nation will feel if events unfold otherwise.