DANE Richards hit a late brace to propel Jamaica into the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Series following a 4-1 triumph over Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) at the National Stadium last evening.
Demar Phillips, the wily left wing-back, had given the Boyz the perfect start with a 16thminute lead and central defender Nyron Nosworthy followed up a minute later to set the tone for the remainder of the match. However, loose play yet again gifted the visitors the lead via a cute free kick from Quinton Griffith just after the hour mark.
The result pushed Jamaica to 10 points in the four-team Group A, the same as Guatemala, who suffered a 1-3 loss to the United States in Kansas City. The US topped the group with 13 points, while A&B remained rooted at the bottom with a solitary point.
The Boyz advanced ahead of Guatemala, who defeated them 2-1 last Friday, with a better goal difference. The Boyz ended with a +3, while Guatemala ended with a +1.
In front of a disappointingly poor crowd, Jamaica went on the attack from early, employing a 4-3-3 formation, but they had little to show for their efforts as A&B sat back in defence, while trying to surprise the hosts with counterattacking forays.
In fact, A&B created the first real chance at goal when Luke George headed over the crossbar uncontested from a long throw in the penalty area.
But the Reggae Boyz continued to probe and duly got their reward in the 17th minute when a clearance from a Jamaican corner fell to Jermaine Hue, just outside the penalty area, and the diminutive midfield maestro smartly relayed a pass to Phillips, who needed no invitation to crack a wicked pile driver which took a cruel deflection on its way into the goal to spark wild celebration from the few spectators inside the National Stadium.
The Boyz were on the rampage and within a minute they found the target again when the Nosworthy headed home his first goal for Jamaica from a Rodolph Austin left-sided corner.
The A&B goal was under siege, but the Boyz, as they were against Guatemala last Friday, proved profligate, especially captain Luton Shelton, who was played through with a sweetly-timed pass from Tramaine Stewart, but after bobbing and weaving his way past a hapless defender, he blasted a left-footer wild and wide of the target, when it seemed much easier to score.
Goals were needed and the Boyz continued their push towards the end of the first half, with Hue having an effort cleared off the line and Stewart forcing goalkeeper Molvin James into a fine low save.
When Costa Rican referee Walter Quesada Cordero signalled the half-time break, the visitors appeared the far more relieved of the two teams.
The second half resumed in the same fashion as the first, with Stewart going pretty close when he carved open the Antiguan defence, thanks to smart off the ball movement by Ryan Johnson, but the little player could not match his final effort with the industry he displayed in creating the chance.
Then, as happened all campaign, the Boyz gifted the Eastern Caribbean side a goal and created unnecessary panic within their ranks and that of the spectators.
Nosworthy dallied for much too long and lost possession just outside his penalty box, before eventually committing a foul, and Griffith made the Boyz pay with a decent curler into the goal.
The Boyz were now in danger of losing out on a place in the final round but, cometh the hour cometh the man. Hue, the man held out of the team for much of the campaign, started creating opportunities for the front runners, while keeping the attack fluid.
But it was Rodolph Austin who did all the hard work for the third goal in the 78th minute. After a series of interplays, he burst through the A&B defence, rounded his marker wide inside the penalty box before pulling the ball back for Richards to sweep home and put the Boyz back in control.
Hue is renown for his excellent passing ability and he didn’t disappoint when, with two minutes remaining, he produced possibly the pass of the game with a pinpoint diagonal pass on the boot of Richards inside the box to slot past the advancing James in goal, thus calming all nerves and assuring the Boyz of victory and a place in next year’s final round alongside five other teams — Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and the United States.
In this round the teams will play each other home and away from next March through November, where the top three teams, on points garnered, will gain automatic berths to the Brazil 2014 World Cup Finals, with the fourth-placed team facing the winner of the Oceania group in a two-way play-off for the final spot to Brazil.