Reggae Boyz stay on course for Caribbean Cup glory
Winfried Schäfer breathed a sigh of relief as the final whistle sounded after he masterminded a spirited 3-0 Caribbean Cup triumph for Jamaica over Antigua & Barbuda on Friday night.
First-half strikes from Kemar Lawrence and Darren Mattocks put the hosts in charge at the rain-soaked Montego Bay Sports Complex with influential captain Rodolph Austin bagging a late goal.
With Haiti having defeated Martinique 3-0 in the afternoon Group B match, the Reggae Boyz desperately needed to register a big win to both boost their confidence and to try and progress in the tournament.
But after their thrilling 1-1 stalemate against Martinique, and a winless run of seven games, not even the most devoted fan of the Boyz could have predicted a comfortable success.
With head coach Schäfer aware that his job would be in jeopardy should his Boyz fail to progress out of the four-team group, it proved to be a vital victory although Jamaica were initially outplayed.
The Boyz took time to find their feet on a heavy pitch with a dreadful stuttering start. The Benna Boyz were all over Jamaica like a rash until they conceded on the half-hour mark and were unfortunate not to have taken the lead.
Antigua & Barbuda’s “Big Pete” Byers’ ferocious volley was directed straight at shotstopper Andre Blake. Myles Weston prodded the ball narrowly wide of the target and Joshua Parker’s thunderbolt from the edge of the box was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by Blake.
But against the run of play the Boyz sneaked into the lead. Austin’s low free-kick into the area landed at the feet of Lawrence, who turned on a sixpence before rifling the ball past keeper James Molvin.
Molvin made amends three minutes later, dealing with Jobi McAnuff’s long-range effort, but he was beaten again on the brink of half-time. Dane Richards sent a speculative cross into the penalty area, which left the defence so discombobulated that Mattocks was gifted a simple tap-in.
Jamaica, with their tail up, stormed forward at every opportunity after the interval to keep Molvin overworked between the sticks but the Boyz squandered numerous chances.
Seeking to add to their tally suddenly seemed like a desperate mission with the hosts continuously guilty of failing to find the finishing touch against a disorientated Antigua & Barbuda. But the Boyz have always had a problem scoring goals under Schäfer.
Mattocks should have extended their lead on 50 minutes but his header lacked power to gift Molvin a straightforward save. And Jobi McAnuff’s powerful drive on 65 minutes thundered onto the chest of bewildered Molvin, but there were no players to pounce onto the loose ball from the rebound.
With all the goalmouth action at one end of the pitch during a one-sided second half, it was bulky Molvin who brilliantly saw off the danger of late efforts from Simon Dawkins and Richards. But he was beaten on 84 minutes, only for Hughan Gray’s drive to be denied by the woodwork.
Captain Austin then led by example by racing forward and thumping his leaping header past the impressive Molvin on 85 minutes, and bagged Jamaica an overdue goal that keeps them in contention for a place in the final of the Caribbean Cup.
With Haiti leading Group B over Jamaica by virtue of more goals scored, the sides face off on Sunday with the winner progressing into Tuesday’s final. The French-speaking island will be aware that a draw will suffice. The group’s runner up will contest Tuesday’s third-fourth play-off against the side finishing second in Group A.
Trinidad & Tobago head Group A following a 3-2 win over Curacao and 4-2 success over French Guiana, with defending champions Cuba in second spot courtesy of finishing 1-1 against French Guiana and a 3-2 triumph over Curacao. Cuba tackle Trinidad & Tobago on Sunday with the winner topping the group.
Schäfer, who as coach of Thailand guided them to runner-up spot in the eight-nation 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup, admitted: “I’m not afraid for the Caribbean Cup because we have a good team.”
Yet Schäfer is being optimistic despite this victory as the German coach has only picked up three wins in his 16 games at the helm, the other victories were meaningless friendlies in March against minnows Barbados and St. Lucia.
The success over Antigua & Barbuda is Schäfer’s greatest achievement as head coach, with the Caribbean Cup glory now within grasp for a side who have woefully been on the slide ever since he took charge.
Jamaica: Blake, Powell, Taylor, Gray, Lawrence, Austin, McAnuff (Campbell 83), Watson, Dawkins (Seaton 75), Mattocks (Grant 64), Richards Subs: Nosworthy, Foster, Edwards, Finlayson, Phillips, Thompson, Loza, Brown, Kerr
Reggae Boyz’ results under Schäfer:
Played 16 Won 3 Drawn 5 Lost 8 Goals for 18 Goals against 26
14 November 2014 Antigua & Barbuda 0 Jamaica 3 (Caribbean Cup)
12 November 2014 Jamaica 1 Martinique 1 (Caribbean Cup)
10 October 2014 Japan 1 Jamaica 0 (Friendly)
9 September 2014 Canada 3 Jamaica 1 (Friendly)
8 June 2014 France 8 Jamaica 0 (Friendly)
4 June 2014 Egypt 2 Jamaica 2 (Friendly)
30 May 2014 Switzerland 1 Jamaica 0 (Friendly)
26 May 2014 Serbia 2 Jamaica 1 (Friendly)
5 March 2014 St. Lucia 0 Jamaica 5 (Friendly)
2 March 2014 Barbados 0 Jamaica 2 (Friendly)
19 November 2013 Trinidad & Tobago 2 Jamaica 0 (Friendly)
15 November 2013 Jamaica 0 Trinidad & Tobago 1 (Friendly)
15 October 2013 Jamaica 2 Honduras 2 (World Cup Qualifying)
11 October 2013 USA 2 Jamaica 0 (World Cup Qualifying)
10 September 2013 Jamaica 1 Costa Rica 1 (World Cup Qualifying)
6 September 2013 Panama 0 Jamaica 0 (World Cup Qualifying)
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