Hallgrímsson defends Reggae Boyz performance after 2-2 draw with Haiti
Jamaica's Shamar Nicholson (left) challenges Haiti's Steven Séance for the ball during their League A, Group B game in the Concacaf Nations League at the National Stadium on Tuesday evening. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Although Jamaica did not beat Haiti in their Concacaf Nations League football match on Tuesday night, Head Coach Heimir Hallgrímsson says the team played better than when they won against Honduras on Friday.

Jamaica had to fight back from trailing Haiti 0-2 after 15 minutes to end with a 2-2 draw. Don Louicius scored Haiti's goals in the 12th and 15th minutes then Haiti's Ricardo Adé put Jamaica on the scoresheet with an own goal in the 51st minute. Bobby Decordova-Reid equalised from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute.

Hallgrímsson was quick to defend the result in his post-game press conference by talking up the strength of Haiti.

"Just to remind everyone that Haiti is top-seeded in our group," he said when addressing the media. "If we look at the results, I think it is good that we did not lose this game. It was close and, performance-wise, I would say even at 2-0 when they scored the two goals, we were the better team in that moment. So, it was kind of a slap in the face. But not one, just two slaps in the face. If we take away two or three mistakes we made and gave them chances, I think we played a really good game but the coach is always the most pleased with the character that they showed. They fought until the end. We wanted the win. Everybody saw that. We pushed for the win, so I'm mostly pleased with the character of the team and the togetherness to win this game. It's tough to be slapped in the face two times in the early stage of the game."

Jamaica striker Shamar NIcholson (right) turns away from Haiti defender Ricardo Adé (left), whose teammate Jeppe Friborg (centre) looks on during their Concacaf Nations League game at the National Stadium on Tuesday. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Based on statistics, Jamaica did have better numbers against Haiti than against Honduras. They took 18 shots against the Haitians, with eight on target, as opposed to six against Honduras, with the only one on target being Demarai Gray's goal. Honduras took 11 shots against Jamaica with two on target, while Haiti had nine with five on target.

Against Haiti, Jamaica completed 465 passes, with an accuracy rate of 79 per cent, while against Honduras that number was 396, with an accuracy rate of 79 per cent as well.

But Jamaica lost possession of the ball 180 times against Haiti, while that number was 135 against Honduras. There were also fewer duals won against Haiti (32) than against Honduras (55). Jamaica also completed only six tackles, two interceptions, and 12 clearances against Haiti, but that figure was 20, seven, and 19 against Honduras.

It should also be considered that both opponents' form in the last five games are fairly similar, with Honduras winning two games, losing one, and drawing two, while Haiti have won one, lost two, and drawn two.

"We need to be pleased that at least we are going in the right direction," Hallgrímsson said. "Even though we didn't win today, I thought we had a much better game today, even though we won against Honduras."

Heading into the game, Hallgrímsson said that he was not pleased with the performance in their 1-0 win over Honduras. This, he said, would prompt changes to his starting line-up on Tuesday. But the only changes made were captain Andre Blake replacing Jahmali Waite in goal, and Shamar Nicholson replacing 17-year-old Dujuan Richards as the main striker. Blake had missed the previous game with what was said to be flu symptoms, while Nicholson arrived in the camp a day before that game. Both men were expected to start this game regardless of the team's previous performance.

With no change made based on prior performances, it suggests Hallgrímsson felt the team showed a better understanding in training of what he wanted them to do in this game.

"We started the game on a much higher tempo," he said. "It was too slow against Honduras. We moved the ball slowly, so we did not open them up. Today, we moved it quickly between the flanks and used the flanks pretty well. We could've crossed it a little bit more, but I think we used the spaces much quicker than we did against Honduras. This means we had our most attacking threat players on the ball in the correct spaces. That is what we want to play in our attacking game. We want to open the spaces for our top four or five players."

But when pressed, Hallgrímsson admitted to flaws in the team's play. He describes these as individual errors.

"I think every coach would like to avoid individual mistakes – every coach," he said. "Every fan would like us to play a game without making mistakes. But it's a part of the game. I think the first goal, we have a principle of going for the guy dropping off for the ball, nobody dropped off. I'm not happy with that. The defensive balance, I'm not happy with that. But this is football. Sometimes the opponent tricks you. The ball drops to them, but not to us. Sometimes the ball drops in their box, it always seems to go to them, on the line or whatever, but there never seems to be a Jamaican foot to put it in."

This is not the first time Hallgrímsson has mentioned too much individualism in how the team plays. In spite of a 1-0 win against Guatemala in the quarter-final of the Concacaf Gold Cup last summer, it was felt by fans, pundits, and Hallgrímsson that the team had to produce an "ugly" win. Hallgrímsson said that day that there were too many mistakes made by the team because of individualism in how they were defending. Days later, they were eliminated in the semi-final, losing 0-3 to Mexico. Hallgrímsson also mentioned an individualistic pattern to play in that performance.

But his starting line-up has remained largely the same since then with the only changes to it being Ethan Pinnock replacing Di'Shon Bernard to partner Damion Lowe in the centre of defence, and new player Kasey Palmer replacing Kevon Lambert, to partner Joel Latibeaudiere at the base of midfield. Dexter Lembikisa did feature prominently at right back at the Gold Cup, but so did Javain Brown. Lembikisa has missed both Nations League games with a bone bruise and Brown has started both.

Hallgrímsson's comments suggest he sees progress in this line-up and that it is unlikely significant changes will be made when the Reggae Boyz play their next game. This will be against hosts Grenada on October 11.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator parchmentr@jamaicaobserver.com

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