'Signs of greatness!'

'Signs of greatness!'

Whitmore salutes Boyz for sound, gutsy rendition in face of COVID crisis

IAN BURNETT
SPORT EDITOR
In Saudi Arabia
WITH THE REGGAE

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — There was a collective sigh of relief at game's end.

Not that Jamaica's Reggae Boyz had won the Fifa World Cup Finals, or the Concacaf Gold Cup Tournament. Not even the Caribbean Cup. But it was a victory against all odds and everyone in the delegation knew and appreciated the total team effort that was put in.

Jamaica had avenged Saturday's 3-0 loss to Saudi Arabia on their home patch at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium yesterday, thanks to a come-from-behind 2-1 win in the second of two friendly internationals.

Abdullah Alhamddan gave the hosts a 28th-minute lead against the run of play after Jamaica seemed destined to find the target. However, Preston North End player Daniel “DJ” Johnson, in only his second game for the country of his birth, notched the equaliser six minutes later with a beauty, before Javon East put his team ahead after 64 minutes.

Truth be told, it could have and should have been by a much wider margin had the Jamaicans not been so profligate in front of goal.

The shoddy manner in which the team arrived in Riyadh served only to delay their quarantine and PCR tests, thus reducing the time allowed to get in proper training sessions. In fact, they took to the pitch only last Friday, a day ahead of their opening fixture, and to compound matters, negative COVID-19 test results denied Head Coach Theodore Whitmore of players, forcing his hand at playing from the start three players who reside in Jamaica and had not played a football match since March.

That result spoke for itself. The Boyz were overmatched until the professionals were introduced. They predicted an improved performance for the second game, and they delivered, convincingly.

In fact, such was the performance of the players after much stress over the past few days it convinced Whitmore that greatness awaits if the team is given the support.

“It was an improved performance from the last game,” was his obvious opening response to the Jamaica Observer.

“The team was more balanced, more organised and you could see the cohesiveness. But one aspect that I wasn't pleased with was the decision-making in the final third of the field. But I can't knock them for that because we had just two proper training sessions from the time we got here.”

The Reggae Boyz got off to a fast start and forced their opponents into hurried clearances and a lot of unforced errors. They could have taken the lead, but powerful left back Gregory Leigh had his drive tipped over the horizontal for a corner.

Approaching the half-hour mark, Whitmore would have been pleased with his team's effort, but against the run of play, Saudi Arabia found the lead when Alhamddan and Almalki broke away and as the centre back pairing of Damion Lowe and Michael Hector appeal for offside, the ball broke to Almalki who served his strike partner on a platter.

The Jamaicans ensured that justice was swift, and within six minutes, Johnson delivered a sumptuous cross at the back post for Leon Bailey, but somehow the Bayer Leverkusen winger fluffed his lines from close range and the goalkeeper helped it around the post.

From the resulting corner, the ball fell outside the box to Johnson, who showed Bailey how it is done with a stunning curler from 25 yards out.

The visitors continued from where they left off in the second half and East was the first to have a strike on target, but it was tame.

However, he was alert enough to outmuscled his defender, stole possession and outraced him to the penalty box before slotting past Alyami in goal.

East was then wasteful from inside the six-yard box after he somehow turned the ball straight into the welcoming arms of Alyami, who was rooted to one side of the goal, with more than ample space on the other side.

Then as Saudi Arabia pushed numbers forward in an attempt to find an equaliser, Lowe stole possession at the halfway point and launched a quick counterattack. However, tired legs took its toll when he could barely lift his legs to tap home at the back post nearing the finish.

But in the end, it was just reward for the men from the Caribbean and a pleasing result for Whitmore who was celebrating his 100 game as head coach of Jamaica.

“There was a lot of uncertainty again from last night to this morning leading up to the game re the testing. Most of the players, and even the staff, were a bit uncomfortable, but we went through the game and I think I saw signs of greatness in this team,” said the coach.

“To be honest I was pleased with every aspect of the team from back to midfield to upfront because when you look at what was missing from the previous game, a player like Javon East was missing, but today we created a number of scoring opportunities and at this level we have to put away these chances.”

Whitmore added: “I think we have enough quality and what was pleasing to me was after they scored we didn't drop our heads. We showed guts, resilience in getting back a goal six minutes later.

“It could have been 5-1, 6-1, it could have also been 5-0 as well, but what to do. We came away with a victory and it is pleasing and to know that it was my 100th game for the country as a coach, so I am somewhat pleased.”

Teams: Jamaica — Dwayne Miller (Amal Knight 46th), Damion Lowe, Gregory Leigh, Michael Hector, Oniel Fisher, Ravel Morrison (Jahshaun Anglin 90th), Daniel Johnson, Norman Campbell (Kemar Lawrence 62nd), Leon Bailey (Kevon Lambert 83rd), Bobby Reid (Tyreek Magee 68th), Javon East.

Subs not used: Jeadine White, Lamar Walker, Chavany Willis

Booked: Hector (29th), Fisher (60th), Bailey (61st), Lowe (69th), Knight (90th)

Saudi Arabia — Mahammed Alyami, Abdullah Madu, Ali Albulayhi (Sultan Alghannam 73rd), Abdulelah Almalki, Mohammed Alburayk, Abdullah Alhamddan, Hatan Bahbri (Saleh Alshehri 81st), Hassan Altambakti (Turki Alammar 46th), Abdullah Tarmin (Mukhtar Ali 46th), Saeed Alyami, Mohamed Kanno (Hussain Almoqahwi 81st).

Subs not used: Habib Alwatyan, Mohammed Khubrani, Ahmed Sharahili, Abdelfatah Adam.

Booked: Bahbri (30th), Alhamddan (33rd), Madu (40th), Alburayk (64th), Almalki (67th)

Referee: Yahya Almullah (UAE)

Assistant Referees: Sabet Obaid, Ali Alnuaini (UAE)

Fourth Official: Ahmed Eisa (UAE)


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