Reggae Boyz were unlucky, says coaching staff
Jamaica's Bobby Reid (left) celebrates with teammates Ravel Morrison (centre) and Leon Bailey after scoring a goal during the Concacaf Nations League football match against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, on Sunday, March 26, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Jamaica's Head Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson has described Sunday's 2-2 draw against hosts Mexico, in the Concacaf Nations League game at Estadio Azteca, as "unlucky" as they narrowly failed to pull off an upset.

The draw was good enough for Mexico to win Group A in League A with eight points, two more than Jamaica, to advance to the final set for June in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jamaica, who have qualified for the Gold Cup, led twice in the encounter. They got on the scoresheet through Fulham player Bobby Reid in the eighth minute and an own goal in the 33rd minute, just before the players were forced off the field by rainy weather.

Twice the Mexicans clawed their way back into the game. Orbelin Pineda made the score 1-1 in the 17th minute when he finished off a good team effort, and Hirving Lozano converted a penalty in the second minute of first-half stoppage time after Ravel Morrison had fouled a Mexican just inside the 18-yard box.

Reid joined an elite list of Jamaicans who have scored in the Azteca when he gave Jamaica a shock lead. The others are Hector Wright, Devon Ricketts, Walter Boyd and Shamar Nicholson

"It's a difficult place to come," Hallgrimsson said during the post-match press conference. "This is one of the powerhouses in Concacaf so we knew it was going to be a difficult match."

Despite what was arguably Jamaica's best performance at the Azteca, Hallgrimsson, who was standing in his first competitive game as Reggae Boyz coach, said: "I think we did some good things but we are starting our journey together. I know we need to improve a lot of things still, but the good thing about this match for us is that it shows even though we go away and play in a difficult stadium like a Azteca we can still get something from the game and that we, obviously...are disappointed not to win."

Hallgrimsson, who had promised an improved performance from the two friendly internationals against Trinidad and Tobago earlier in the month, said the Boyz could have scored more than two goals on the night.

"I think we were unlucky. We had really good openings, we used the space behind Mexico so we had a lot of good counter-attacks, we had really good set pieces which we should have scored from, so I would say we are disappointed that we did not score more than two goals.

"Of course, Mexico had their chances as well [but] I think we had more open chances, clear-cut chances, which is down to details, maybe more working together to finish these attacks."

He pointed out that the Mexicans, who fielded a different team from the one that beat Suriname on Thursday, were familiar with each other.

"This Mexico team starting 11 was more or less the same that played the whole World Cup [last year] so they are much more synchronised in what they're doing because they know each other pretty well. So, obviously we are just disappointed that we did not win because we wanted to [advance] in the Nations League."

Hallgrimsson said he had paid attention to the opponents from as far back as the FIFA World Cup and was under no illusion about task facing the Reggae Boyz.

"Mexico is always a tough team. It's always a difficult team to play against — the individual quality and acceleration, speed, quick actions — so that [is] difficult to play against," said,.

"I watched them in the World Cup... it's always difficult to play them in here, especially in this altitude with this atmosphere," he said.

Assistant Coach Merron Gordon said the draw was a "tough one to take" as the team needed to win to advance to the next stage.

"But, you know, getting two goals in the Azteca is not easy. I think in any other tournament we would have settled for a draw but we needed the win to move on," he said.

"But I think the guys did well; we worked on a lot of stuff, you know [so] it really feels good. We even worked on the goal kick and we scored from it, we worked on the corner a lot and we scored from it.

"We got a few open shots that we should have put away but Mexico also got chances, you know. It's a balanced game but to come here and get this performance, it's a good start for us.

"I think tactically we got this spot on. I just think it was just the chances, you know, I think we should believe a little bit more. I think we were looking for clear-cut chances when we had some half-chances where we could shoot but it's very encouraging going into the Gold Cup."

The team is getting better with each game, Gordon said.

"I think the Argentina game was the beginning; I think we made a turnaround in Cameroon, and I think this [was] understood. We are on the road to really [building] a nice team for the future."

United States-based Jahmali Waite, who started in goal and was playing his first game in the Azteca, said the team executed the game plan as well as could be expected.

"I think we executed the game plan perfectly, what the coach wanted us to do. We had our chances on set pieces, we tried to get in behind the play, and we executed the game plan. Unlucky not to come away with the win, but definitely a step in the right direction."

On a personal level he said it was not easy.

"This was my first time coming here really and, you know, being able to get the start. But it's definitely not easy to play and to come in and perform the way we did. I think it shows how the team is growing and making the step in the right direction," said the Boyz goalkeeper.

BY PAUL A REID Observer writer

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