PANAMA CITY, Panama -- After only three training sessions with his full complement of players, Winfried Schafer has made an early impression as a tactician and coach capable of inspiring.
With the way the Reggae Boyz played in their 0-0 tie with host Panama on Friday night, there was a distinct picture of organisation and tactical discipline throughout the match, even when reduced to 10 men.
It was a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier that the Boyz were desperate to win for three precious points to rekindle their fading campaign, and though the ultimate goal was not met on the night, there abounds a sense of optimism that a victory could be on the cards for them when they face leaders Costa Rica inside their home fortress in Kingston in a last-ditch effort to save the day.
Even when gritty midfielder Rodolph Austin picked up a second yellow card with 28 minutes still to play and a forced substitution of the injured right-side player Alvas Powell in the first half, the team held its shape and played within its means.
"After the match, I congratulated my team and told them I was proud of their performance. This is a new team and it's the first time some of them were playing together, plus playing a new system which is three-five-two, but what was more important is that everybody gave their heart for Jamaica.
"(Lloyd) Doyley, (Wes) Morgan and (Jermaine) Taylor played fantastic and the goalkeeper (Donovan Ricketts), too. Upfront, King fought very good for the team, and Jobi (McAnuff) in midfield was running and running and that was good," Schafer told the Sunday Observer after the game.
The German, who succeeded Theodore Whitmore at the helm of the senior national team in July, said he has more ammunition going into Tuesday's match against Costa Rica.
"One of the things going into that game is that I know my players better than before... we will be doing some tactical training as (Adrian) Mariappa comes back now... tomorrow (yesterday) we will have the players in the pool to relax muscles, and for those who didn't play tonight (Friday night), we could go on the field and do some shooting, corners and freekicks," he noted.
Schafer said he has studied Costa Rica and will have a few tricks up his sleeve come game day.
"I watched Costa Rica against us and against the United States and I know what we have to do. What's important is to go into that game with the same power we did against Panama," he charged.
Also, he has called on the nation to support the Boyz, whose bid for a second World Cup hangs by a thread after having only three points from seven matches, which leave them at the bottom of the six-nation tournament.
"I say to all of Jamaica that they should come out and support our team... the game against Panama was the key match, and since we didn't win it the one against Costa Rica is now our other key match, and maybe in our last game against Honduras, maybe that will be another key match and, hopefully by then, we will have a chance to finish fourth. But it's not easy," the former Cameroon coach said.
Meanwhile, on Friday, under a constant drizzle that made playing a bit difficult at the Rommel Ferndanez Stadium, the Boyz fought tooth and nail to keep a clean sheet and revive hopes in the Brazil 2014 World Cup dream.
Panama threatened in the eighth minute through Gabriel Torres and Cecilio Waterman, but neither would take responsibility to pull the trigger inside the Jamaican 18-yard box.
A minute later, the dangerous Gabriel Torres tried to defeat the experienced Donovan Ricketts in goal with a cheeky right-footed shot, but the Portland Timbers number one was down promptly to parry.
In the 25th minute, Jamaica made their first purposeful attacking play when Luton Shelton and strike partner Marlon King did a clever give-and-go, which put the former blazing down the right channel, but his attempt at a cross inside was slightly off after dismissing a charging Carlos Rodriguez, who slid off the pitch in dramatic fashion.
And the pocket of Jamaicans in attendance savoured that bit of entertainment.
Following a lull in offensive activity on the part of Jamaica, Jobi McAnuff reignited the spark in the 35th minute when he was keyed up sweetly by his Reading teammate Garath McCleary, and, never one to resist temptation, he went for a long-ranger which veered wide.
From a corner kick in minute 41, the hosts gave Jamaica a scare when captain Roman Torres headed down the incoming ball that crashed onto the upright and back into play, but a Jamaican defender mopped up.
For the ensuing couple of minutes, Panama kept pressing, but the Boyz defence — marshalled in the main by debutant Morgan -- worked overtime to keep their goal safe.
Jamaica's game plan suffered a minor stroke when right-back Powell twisted his ankle and had to be substituted in 44th minute by O'brian Woodbine, who recently moved to the New England Revolution in the US Major League.
Things suddenly appeared to take a turn for the worse when Austin was sent to the showers in the 62nd minute.
Smelling blood, Panama immediately went on the prowl as they sought to make the one-man advantage count with a volley of raids into the Jamaican goal area, but Ricketts, in his 100th appearance for the country, was sharp in response to the danger on each count.
And many times after, the towering veteran had to come with his best hand to deny the rampaging Panamanians.
In the 68th minute, Jamaica had a break away with Shelton and McAnuff, but somehow they couldn't get it right in the end.
At the other end, Taylor had to block with his foot in the 83rd minute as Panama's Gabriel Torres let fly with the left boot.
Jermaine Johnson, with fresh legs, represented Jamaica's lone attacker for the final 20 minutes or so, using his demonic speed to push Panama back.
With Jamaica still languishing at the bottom of the standing with three points, Panama moved up to seven, while Costa Rica (14 points) shot to the top with a 3-1 win over previous leaders USA (13) in San Jose, also on Friday.
Honduras sneaked to third with 10 points after a big win over Mexico (eight) at the feared Azteca, leaving the latter in an uncomfortable fourth position.
After the hexagonal play-offs, only the top-three finishers will automatically book a place in Brazil, while the fourth-place team engages the champion of Oceania for an additional qualifying spot from CONCACAF.
Teams: Panama — Jaime Penado, Roberto Chen, Carlos Rodriguez, Roman Torres, Gabriel Gomez (Jairo Jimenez 79th), Marcos Sanchez, Gabriel Torres, Ceceilio Waterman (Alcibiades Rojas 66th), Luis Henriquez, Alberto Quintero, Anibal Godoy.
Subs not used: Harold Cummings, Eybir Bonaga, Luis Meija, Jean Carlos Cedeno, Juan de Dios Perez , Alex Rodriguez, Richard Dixon, Amilcar Henriquez, Alcibiades Rojas.
Jamaica — Donovan Ricketts, Lloyd Doyley, Jermaine Taylor, Wes Morgan, Alvas Powell (O'brian Woodbine 44th), Shaun Cummings, Rodolph Austin, Jobi McAnuff, Garath McCleary, Luton Shelton (Jermaine Johnson 73rd), Marlon King (Marvin Elliott 63rd).
Subs not used: Richard McCallum, Gariece McPherson, Daniel Gordon, Jermaine Beckford, Ryan Johnson, Darren Mattocks, Theo Robinson, Chris Humphrey, Kemar Lawrence.
Booked: King (8th), Austin (33rd & 62nd-ejected), Ricketts (86th)
Referee: Walter Lopez (Guatemala)
Assistant Refereess: Leonel Leal (Costa Rica), Gerson Lopez (Guatemala)
Fourth Official: Oscar Reyna (Guatemala)
Match Commissioner: Joseph Machnik (USA)