Reggae Boyz Hold On Against Courageous Curaçao
Misfiring Jamaica progress in Gold Cup
Jamaica almost suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Curaçao, but kept their nerve to register a 1-1 stalemate and advance to the Gold Cup knockout stages – with a potential tussle against the United States next.
The Reggae Boyz were guilty of squandering a series of goal-scoring opportunities and almost paid the price late on at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Shamar Nicholson’s 14th-minute goal for Jamaica was cancelled out by Jurien Gaari’s thumping injury time strike. But the Boyz were relieved to see substitute Elson Hooi’s long-range effort whistle narrowly wide of the target with virtually the last kick of the contest.
The Boyz progressed as Group C table-toppers and on Sunday will tackle the runner-up of Group D, which will be either the United States or Panama, who face each other on Wednesday.
Curaçao, the tiny Dutch Caribbean island with a population of 160,000, also progress to the knockout stages. They claimed second spot on goal difference ahead of third-placed El Salvador, who were outclassed 4-0 by Honduras.
This was only the third meeting between the sides, Jamaica easing to a 2-0 Gold Cup success just a week after suffering a shock 2017 Caribbean Cup 2-1 reversal on home soil at the hands of Curaçao.
It was a strange decision by Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore to take his opponents lightly for this must-win match.
He swapped four of his front six from last week’s tepid scoreless draw against El Salvador, which included the absence of Bayer Leverkusen’s much-lauded whizzy winger Leon Bailey.
Curaçao, relative minnows in this tournament, faced the Boyz high in spirit having registered an historic win. They stunned Honduras 1-0 to bag their first goal and inaugural win in their fifth Gold Cup match.
Yet Jamaica had Curaçao on the ropes from kick-off and with such dazzling footwork should have made the breakthrough within the opening five minutes.
Nicholson screwed his effort wide to give the Boyz some momentum going forward. Damion Lowe came close from a corne ronly to see his header deflected onto the post for another corner, from which Nicholson headed over the gaping goal from point-blank range.
It looked as though the lively Nicholson was never going to score after his next effort, a curling shot, was denied by the upright.
But Nicholson was rewarded for his tenaciousness with a goal. He combined brilliantly with veteran Je-Vaughn Watson and Andre Lewis’ off target clearance was swiftly volleyed past helpless keeper Eloy Room from six yards courtesy of a deflection.
At the other end of the pitch Jamaica skipper Andre Blake was called into action on 20 minutes, tipping over Gaari’s goal-bound cross for a corner.
And Blake was almost beaten on the brink of half-time, only for Jarchinio Antoni to drag his shot wide of the target.
Kemar Lawrence, the New York Red Bulls left back, was the engine behind Jamaica ripping into their opponents. But poor finishing from his team-mates meant that the Boyz only had a one-goal cushion to show for their superiority at the interval.
The Boyz came out for the second half raring to go and eager to add goals to reflect their dominance.
Nicholson set up Damion Williams from their first attack, only for PSV Eindhoven shotstopper Room to parry the danger for a corner.
And Nicholson, who should have notched at least a hat-trick, wasted a glorious chance on the hour-mark by heading over from eight yards. He then drove another effort over the target from 12 yards as the frustration started to set in for the Boyz.
And Curaçao almost completed an unlikely injury time smash-and-grab triumph.
Defender Gaari unleashed an unstoppable thunderbolt 25-yarder into the bottom right corner on 93 minutes to level matters.
Then Hooi’s ambitious long-range effort, virtually the last shot of the game, was only millimetres wide of winning the contest.
Whitmore will need to juggle his Jamaican squad following the bore draw against El Salvador and again his misfiring frontline failed against Curaçao.
The Boyz have reached the past two Gold Cup finals, but will need to sharpen their shooting skills if they are to overcome either Panama or the US on Sunday.
JAMAICA: Blake; Powell, Lowe (Hector, 70), Francis, Lawrence; Williams (Magee, 87), Watson; Flemmings, Lewis (Lambert, 73), Morris; Nicholson. Subs: Topey, Orgill, Bailey, Foster, Mattocks, Miller, Vassell, Brown, Knight.
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