Rare Lawrence Strike Fires Jamaica Into Gold Cup Final
Whitmore’s warriors stun heavy favourites Mexico with last-gasp goal
Kemar Lawrence’s sublime 88th-minute free-kick was enough to send Mexico tumbling out of the Gold Cup and book Jamaica’s place in Wednesday’s final.
The New York Red Bulls left-back bagged a rare goal to earn the Reggae Boyz an eventful 1-0 triumph at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Sunday evening.
And for Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore it was a case of sticking with his guns to keep their Cinderella run in the Gold Cup going.
The reward for the Boyz is a shot at winning the tournament for the first time, having finished runners-up to Mexico in 2015. They will tackle the USA, hosts and five-time champions, in the Levi’s Stadium at Santa Clara on Wednesday.
Defending champions Mexico started as overwhelming favourites to dismiss Jamaica, with the Boyz quoted as such ridiculous long odds of 7-1 to win the tie.
But with under pressure head coach Juan Carlos Osorio forced to watch from the stands, having been imposed with a FIFA six-game suspension prior to the tournament, those odds for Jamaica to succeed seemed extremely generous.
The Mexico chief had been criticised for bringing what is effectively his B-squad to the Gold Cup, resting his star players after their exploits in the recent Confederations Cup.
And with a reputation for rotating his starting line-up, at this tournament resulting in feeble team performances, Mexico surprisingly made just two changes to the side that stuttered 1-0 past Honduras in their tame quarter-final clash. Erick Gutierrez and Erick Torres replacing Jesus Gallardo and Angel Sepulveda respectively.
And Whitmore had not been given the same high quality charges as their run to the last Gold Cup final two years ago, when the squad was rich in English-based players.
Only one European-based player is in the 23-strong squad, with the remainder split equally between those who ply their trade in North America and those who compete in the Red Stripe Premier League on the island of Jamaica.
Whitmore confidently made just a single change from their well-earned 2-1 quarter-final victory over Canada, Ladale Richie in place of Kevon Lambert and was able to field the influential Darren Mattocks – who had been a doubt because of a knock in the past tie.
With Jamaica and Mexico having played a dour scoreless draw during the group games, Jamaica’s Andre Blake arguably the best keeper in the tournament and the fact that Mexico had notched just three goals in their past three games then those facts all pointed to a low-scoring encounter.
After a cagey start to the tie it was Philadelphia Union shotshopper Blake who produced the heroics to deny Mexico the lead their deserved.
Blake had to be on his toes in the 12th minute when called upon to make an incredible double save. Jesus Duenas’ low shot took a deflection, which Blake blocked with his legs and Torres latched onto the rebound only for his effort to also be saved.
And it was Houston Dynamo striker Torres who came close to breaking the deadlock on 24 minutes, Blake equal to snuff out the danger of his close-range header from a telling Elías Hernández cross.
The Boyz patiently waited for their goal-scoring chances, having failed to make much impact in the Mexico box until seven minutes before half-time.
Jermaine Taylor sent in an daredevil free-kick that forced Jesus Corona to make a spectacular diving save, the last goalmouth action of an uninspiring opening half.
But Taylor’s audacious chance spurned Jamaica to step up their game after the turnaround, with tactical maestro Whitmore’s team-talk obviously inspiring his troops to try to outgun Mexico.
Mattocks, who always shines in the Gold Cup, showed his team-mates that Mexico were not as invincible as the experts claimed. He made an adventurous run towards goal, attempting to weave past the entire defence before being stopped in his tracks that finally brought the tie to much-needed life.
Jamaica’s long-term counter-attacking tactics almost paid dividends on the hour-mark, only for substitute Ricardo Morris to fire his effort tamely straight at Corona.
Five minutes later and the industrious Blake was called upon again, punching away Gallardo’s thunderbolt of a free-kick.
Damion Lowe could have given the Boyz the lead with 13 minutes remaining, his header from Owayne Gordon’s cross was on target but Corona scrambled to push away his fine effort.
And with the clash appearing to be heading for extra time, up stepped Lawrence to fire the Boyz into a second successive Gold Cup final and avenge their 3-1 slip up in 2015 to Mexico.
Lawrence sent in a fast-paced curling free-kick that caught out Corona, which sent the majority of the pro-Mexico crowd of 42,393 fans into stunned silence.
In stark contrast to the supporters, the Boyz’ bench exploded into celebrations and made it California dreaming for Whitmore and his warriors.
Jamaica, who upset USA 2-1 in their 2015 Gold Cup semi-final showdown, will be brimming with confidence after this result as Mexico had won three of the past Gold Cup tournaments
Delighted Whitmore admitted: “Our confidence is high, but we don’t want to be overconfident going into the game.
“We try to be mean in conceding goals, and that’s been working for us.
“The players are enjoying it at the moment, but I keep saying no one must lose focus. We don’t want history to repeat itself by being at two finals and being runners-up.”
JAMAICA: Blake; Lawrence, Taylor, Powell, Lowe; Watson, Gordon, Richie, Francis (Morris, 53 mins); Williams (Binns, 77 mins), Mattocks (Campbell, 90 mins) Subs not used: Nicholson, Harriott, Grandison,, Morris, Fisher, Binns, Burke, Lambert, Miller, Hyatt, Johnson
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