ALL Jamaican hopes and aspirations soared momentarily when our all-time leading goalscorer Luton Shelton notched a 61st-minute penalty to equalise with Guatemala in an away World Cup Qulaifier in Guatemala on Friday night.
This was Shelton's 35th goal overall, but that statistic was not enough. Talisman Carlos Ruiz, the 33-year-old veteran with 54 career goals for Guatemala, outsmarted a full line of defenders, popping up in minute 86 to head home from close range. That goal will haunt us all until today's final whistle in our home game against Antigua and Barbuda.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT:
Balancing the scales judiciously, especially in the month of October, is all important to us Librans; hence, scoring heavily to win at home to compensate for the lack of scoring and a disappointing draw away in Antigua and Barbuda is part of Jamaica's only possible solution to advancing.
This after creating history by defeating the USA for the first time ever in Kingston 2-1, only to negate that result four days later with a 0-1 loss in Columbus, Ohio.
On Friday last, Jamaica continued its' 2012 World Cup Qualifiers poor away record (two losses, one draw, three goals against, one goal for) in Guatemala by conceded the most goals (two), but also improving to score the only goal, nullifying the earlier 2-1 victory in Kingston.
Our zonal marking must convert to better man-marking in the defensive third of the field, as twice on Friday, mobile forwards were allowed room to get in between stationary defensive lines to score early and again late, while clearly being outnumbered.
Jamaica must now win big or stay home.
ATTACKING PLAY IMPROVED, MEAN DEFENCE:
Clearly our possession, penetrating and attacking play improved against Guatemala by the overall co-ordinated teamwork and positive mindset employed, but also with the inclusion of Jermaine Hue's creativity and Dane Richards' 50-minute cameo.
We generated for the first time six direct goalscoring opportunities, plus the penalty converted and another penalty appeal not awarded. That one in seven, 14.283 per cent conversion rate only once from a deadball, is not good enough at the international level and must be greatly improved today.
We have scored similar 2-1 victories at 'The Office' against superior opposition in Guatemala and the USA. While away, Antigua and Barbuda has twice lost 1-3 to USA and Guatemala, respectively.
Defensively, a Jamaican clean-sheet is demanded against Antigua.
Balance is required, of one step higher in attack and defence at this crunch-time.
THE DIFFERENCE IS SCORING GOALS:
Jamaica scoring a three goals difference (3-0,4-1, etc.) for the first time in this campaign is the obvious target. A USA and Guatemala draw (0-0,1-1,etc.) means Jamaica are eliminated on points.
Jamaica winning by a one goal margin (1-0,2-1, etc) means we are most likely eliminated on goal difference unless, USA or Guatemala have a big win (2-0,3-0, etc.)
Only if lucky, two could be enough if Guatemala lose by a two goals difference (0-2,1-3, etc) or USA by 3 (0-3,1-4, etc).
UNDERSTANDING THE RULES:
Simply because this is the last game for all teams in the preliminary round, qualifying for the top two countries are judged based collectively on both the results of the Jamaica versus Antigua, plus the USA versus Guatemala games.
The statistics now display Guatemala and USA at the top on 10 points, with both teams scoring eight goals for and five against and boasting a similar goal difference of three goals. Jamaica in third position are behind with seven points, five goals for and equally five against — a goal difference of zero.
Careful understanding of this statistical differential drama is crucial not just to the teams, but also to the nervous yet supportive nations as it is played out right down to the last minute, last kick, last whistle.