Change of luck for panic-stricken Boyz
From The Sports Desk
PANIC is defined as 'a sudden uncontrollable fear or alarm'. That's what hit the Reggae Boyz in their World Cup Qualifier in Columbus, Ohio last Tuesday when they resembled hastily-assembled schoolboys against a professional outfit.
After miraculously surviving waves of attack from a pumped-up home team in the first half, they eventually conceded a goal in the second period, putting paid to aspirations of snatching a favourable result in a somewhat hostile environment.
At the end of a frenetic 90 minutes from which they emerged in a daze, the battered Boyz suddenly find themselves third on goal difference in Group A of the qualifying series — behind the USA and Guatemala, with all three sitting on seven points. Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) languish fourth with a single point.
The irony is that just four days earlier, the Reggae Boyz were atop the world, and the group, thanks to a historic 2-1 home win against the USA. But oh, how rapidly things have changed!
With two sets of matches outstanding, this CONCACAF group is therefore interestingly poised, with all three front-runners with a realistic chance of being among the two nations to advance to the crucial Final Six phase.
Jamaica's two games are away to Guatemala on October 12 and at home against A&B a few days hence. But while the latter fixture is expected to yield us a handsome victory (we have no other choice), the real test lies in the away match against our Central American opponents who are desperate to book their spot in a World Cup Finals for the first time.
Being the poor travellers we've been over the years, the Boyz have their work cut out to salvage at least a point in an important game that will determine who accompany the USA into the final phase of qualifying.
For, having suffered at Jamaica's hands in what effectively was a shock result, be assured that Jurgen Klinsmann's outfit will not lose another game at this preliminary stage and will definitely advance.
That destiny lies in our own hands is, therefore, a poignant truism, yet one can't help but rue the botched opportunities in the earlier stages of the series. First, the Boyz conceded a late goal at home against Guatemala at the onset after carving out a 2-0 lead and seemingly on the way to a comfortable result.
The real disappointment, though, was the goalless draw against minnows A&B in St John's, which amounts to the biggest hiccup so far in the group on the whole. Significantly, A&B lost all their matches before and after that encounter and from all indications, are set to continue in that vein.
In favour of Jamaica is the fact that Guatemala have two formidable opponents left to play in the form of the Reggae Boyz and the USA, while Theodore Whitmore's team should have things a little easier against the cellar-dwellers at 'The Office' and should garner three precious points.
On the other hand, Guatemala will fancy their chances against Jamaica in their backyards, buoyed by a draw against the US in the early exchanges, along with the fact that their opponents are rarely at their best in that part of the world — and on the road, period.
But let's revisit the Ohio catastrophe for a moment. Nothing by professional naivety can explain why Whitmore would not expect to be bombarded by a USA team smarting from an earlier defeat and anxious to prove that they are still one of the top two teams in the CONCACAF region.
We should have, therefore, expected the onslaught from the outset and shored up the defensive aspect of our game, both in training as well as mentally. Instead, what we witnessed was a very poorly organised defence, with opposing attackers left unmarked while the Boyz ran around like headless chickens, metaphorically bawling, 'Woe is me'.
Further, the Jamaicans obviously forgot a fundamental rule when under siege — that opponents cannot attack if you have the ball. This is said within the context of the very poor - perhaps non-existent — ball possession we 'enjoyed', especially in the first half.
Composure was glaringly lacking, which again raises the question of the absence of quality midfielders capable of holding onto the ball consequent to the state of the game, thus asserting a measure of control on proceedings.
In the field of education, a common theme is helping students to set realistic goals. Playing against the USA in an away game, considering the overall circumstances, was the equivalent of setting the unrealistic goal of snatching a victory — a feat that hitherto had never been attained and would mean beating an opponent twice in four days when we hadn't done so in decades.
Amid the discussion on the latest game is the mystifying decision not to play talented striker Darren Mattocks, who showed exquisite skill and promise in the first leg against the US in Kingston. The 22-year-old was a breath of fresh air upon entry, demonstrating pace, zip and an admirable willingness to help out in defence.
Again, as a current player at the Vancouver White Caps in the MLS, the youngster would have been quite at home in the chilly Ohio conditions and further, has been on song in his rookie season with some seven goals to date.
At the end of the day, the Reggae Boyz are still expected to advance to the next stage of the WCQ series but, courtesy of tactical naivety, face a real dogfight with Guatemala for a spot.
They have to ensure they get at least a point in Central America, for if Guatemala win and leap to 10 points with a round to play, our Mission to Rio campaign could be in tatters.