I think those who claim that they were not surprised that Jamaica advanced to the final round of World Cup qualifying are delusional. They say they know Jamaica would have beaten Antigua at the office and that the USA would get the better of Guatemala. Poppycock! They didn’t know squat. If they did why were they wringing their hands and cussing head coach Theodore Whitmore when Jamaica led Antigua 2-1 with more than half of the second half gone and with the USA leading Guatemala 3-1?
If they did why was there only a handful of people at the national stadium to watch this final match of the semi-final round? Jamaicans, myself included, had given up on the Reggae Boyz, who had put themselves into a situation where they had to depend on others to help them through to the Hexagonal group. Nobody knew anything except that Jamaica needed to win by three clear goals and pray that either the USA or Guatemala won their match against each other. If they had drawn it wouldn’t have mattered if Jamaica had beaten Antigua 10-0.
The other thing that had to be taken into consideration was that Jamaica had not scored more than two goals in any match in this just-concluded round of competition, and they were up against an Antiguan team that held Jamaica in Antigua in June. In fact, Antigua could have won that game; they certainly had the opportunity. So to expect Jamaica, a team that is woefully inefficient in front of goal, would score three goals or more, was nothing short of living with Alice in Wonderland.
So what happened last Tuesday night was nothing short of miraculous.
At the outset when Guatemala took the lead against the US, it may have caused a flutter for many Jamaicans who may have believed that a draw could be on the cards, this even as the Jamaica game that started about 10 minutes later, was off to a good enough start with Jamaica going up 2-0 early. Jamaican supporters eventually got some relief when word began to filter through that the US had taken a 2-1 lead over Guatemala. That relief gave way to euphoria when the US scored again while Jamaica struggled to find that third goal that was needed to make them safe.
Jamaicans went from happy to nervous when Antigua pulled one back, against the run of play, and then spirits began to falter when the Boyz despite dominating play, just seemed to lack ideas in the attacking third. But thanks the Dane Richards and the incisive passing of Jermaine Hue, two late goals caused the nation to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Jamaica now joins Mexico, Costa Rica, the United States, Honduras, and Panama in the final stage of qualifying. All these teams are ones that Jamaica has struggled with over the years. Mexico is on another level now, so getting points off them will be next to impossible, and a team like Honduras, though young, is going to be very dangerous. They are well coached and play really well and could end up among the top three. Of course, Panama is going to be that thorn in the side of the Reggae Boyz as will Costa Rica. The Boyz will have to be a lot better than they were during the last round of competition.
They have to score more goals, (maybe its time to bring in Jordi McAnuff and Ricardo Fuller); and be more organized and disciplined in defense, which among other things means that Nyron Noseworthy needs to stop getting caught in possession and stop having those mental lapses that gave Antigua the opportunity to score in that final match and almost gifted them another at the national stadium. Jamaica will also need to be a lot more creative in midfield. Jermaine Hue is going to need all the help he can get to speed up that transition game. It will be Jamaica’s best shot at scoring against their more seasoned opponents, who tend to be a lot more organized in defence.
The final round is going to be the toughest Jamaica has ever faced, and even though on paper this team is perhaps good enough to make the final three it is going to take a lot of hard work, consistent and imaginative play and maybe yet another miracle to get to Brazil in two years’ time.