High scoring performance gets Boyz into Final 6
Congratulations to all, as the Reggae Boyz made their valuable contribution to celebrating Jamaica's 50th Anniversary at the time of honouring our Heroes.
Now the real work must begin to get the squad fully prepared for the hexagonal or 'The Hex' as it is called, that runs from next March through November against the region's mega-teams such as Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama.
Let us first enjoy this remarkable moment when the Reggae Boyz advanced to the highest level of regional football supremacy since the 2002 campaign, earned in the last minutes on 'Decision-Day' (D-Day) with two telling blows from ace midfielders capped of with a brace from striker Dane Richards.
Changes bring rewards
The adjusted 4-3-3, not 4-4-2 line-up with three changes including the returning pair of Rodolph Austin and Dane Richards, complemented by Tremaine Stewart in his starting role for the first time.
Only die-hard supporters made their way to the National Stadium as 'The Office' looked sparsely populated on this most important D-Day.
The DJays blurted out lyrics, the sound system music created a positive vibe, as the teams warmed to the task ahead, and going to the bench assistant coach Alfredo Montesso signaled the "V" sign of victory to the Grandstand as Richie Stevens belted out a stirring National Anthem.
Hurried, the Boyz wanted to get on the offensive early but seemingly trying not to push too hard or being selfish, as Antigua and Barbuda employed a strong defensive organisation while keeping an eye on the counter-attack to capitalise on lesser defensive numbers.
Goal scoring in pairs
Despite Jermaine Taylor's initial errors, Antigua's industry and Jamaica's anxiety and high expectation added by shouts of "Come on Jamaica, score early" caused unease until minute 16 when Jermaine Hue, picked up a loose ball and quickly teed-up Demar Phillips, who from 25 yards, rocketed his shot into the goal as custodian Molvin James was helpless as it swerved and bounced dangerously in front of him.
The gates opened, Austin stepped up to cross the 18th minute left-sided, fourth corner kick onto the head of the darting Nyron Nosworthy, crashing it home from six yards to register his first international goal, but more importantly delivering a severe double-wammy to the heart and soul of the Caribbean neighbours's team resistance.
Stewart was not to be left out of the action, kicking regularly on target, passing, running and dribbling in concert dominantly with Hue and Austin. Hue had two shots saved on the line as he orchestrated passing sequences, Austin 30 yards booming diagonal passes picked out Phillips wide left and Richards wide right, as Luton Shelton goalward efforts missed the mark as the half ended 2-0.
Second half trouble
News filtered into the stadium that USA led Guatemala 3-1, easing pressure tremendously as the stadium vibe became more relaxed, for the moment.
The second half started with a shift of attacking focus skewed towards the right-side of Richards and Stewart, as the latter had three outstanding efforts going wide, hitting the crossbar and thirdly a save low down to his left upright.
Nosworthy flirted with possession to lose it and was punished with a direct Quinton Griffith freekick, which was simply unstoppable in minute 61.
For 17 minutes, the score at 2-1 caused a deep gloom to descend over the stadium, that extracted howls, cursing, horns, frustration, anger and every set of human emotions, as supporters were livid that we should never be in this position, and fearing the worse.
Prime time double
Austin took a 78th minute Lovel Palmer throw-in on the right and raced past three defenders to cross right-footed along the ground for the nimble Richards to dissect two defenders on the line from seven yards.
The second, a goal that will long live in the memory of all Jamaicans, as 'The Mother of all passes' was created by left-footed Maestro Hue on minute 88 just inside the centre circle in his own half, floating a 40-yard gem over the head of a befuddled defender, directly into the path of the streaking Richards, whose outstretched right boot passed it by the onrushing goalkeeper James. As the ball rolled goalward, both Antiguans collided around the penalty spot, bewildered by the lure of the pass, coupled with the composed simplicity of the execution.
For the eyes, heart and cherished memory experienced for those few loyal fans inside the stadium only. TV replays cannot replace the genuine feelings evoked by those precious emotions but it will forever preserve the moment into perpetuity.
This double goalscoring delight was the significant impact, never seen before in this campaign that pushed the team over the barrier and into the regional top brass.
Stay of execution
The nerves were settled, the pressure returned to normal and the moments of celebration enjoyed by all the players, coaches, managers and medical staff. There was hugging, smiling and no doubt some tears may have fallen. Everyone was happy.
The honeymoon period will not last long, as the angry fans wanted blood if success was not delivered.
The technical staff en masse, with head coach Theodore Whitmore first, JFF administration, including Captain Horace Burrell and all new FIFA appointees, players from leading goalscorer Luton Shelton down to those who did not even play.
No one would escape the judgment in this time, but all is well that ends well, if only just for a moment until next March when the CONCACAF Hex begins.