Blake hero in penalty shootout success over T+T
Jamaica took top honours to capture the Caribbean Cup for a sixth time in a tense spotkick shootout following a scoreless stalemate, which has kicked off a new era under head coach Winfried Schafer.
The Reggae Boyz saw off the challenge of Trinidad & Tobago, the overwhelming tournament favourites, following both sides failing to find the net after extra time at Montego Bay Sports Complex on Tuesday evening.
But it was the continuing brilliance of keeper Andre Blake who kick-started their triumph by saving the opening penalty from Trinidad & Tobago skipper Kenwyne Jones.
But the shootout became a tense affair with Jamaica’s teenage ace Michael Seaton failing to score from 12 yards but his team-mates – Jermaine Taylor, Jobi McAnuff, Demar Phillips and captain Rodolph Austin – made no mistake to beat keeper Jan Michael Williams. With the Boyz shutting out their opponents in their past three ties, Blake’s commanding presence between the sticks and a well marshalled defensive line keeping a third clean sheet on the bounce, it was at the other end of the pitch that Jamaica struggled to come up trumps.
The Boyz always set out to prove that they were the leading team in the region by trying to win the eight-nation tournament on home soil.
Yet no fans had the same conviction as Schafer that they would triumph overall following an insipid draw against Martinique and going into the Caribbean Cup tasting five reversals in six games.
But following the Martinique match the Boyz bounced back to produce long overdue well organised displays. Their dodgy defence vanished, the midfield created goalscoring chances and soaked up the pressure and combined with a new-found confidence among the three-pronged attack – this was a very different squad to the one who kicked off the Caribbean Cup.
With Austin admitting that Jamaica had a problem so needed to fix it after their first foray in the tournament, the management and squad discussed a change of tactics and how to prove to their fans that they were winners.
Sure enough these magical words spelt a new era. Suddenly the pressure on the shoulders of German coach Schafer was lifted when Antigua & Barbuda and Haiti were dispatched to propel the Boyz into the final.
And by reaching the tournament final the Boyz automatically qualified for the financially lucrative Gold Cup, leaving Schafer to focus on the future and no longer worry about his position.
The omens looked promising for the Boyz, who triumphed as 2008 champions as hosts for the tournament and were further boosted by Trinidad & Tobago threatening to boycott the Caribbean Cup final over a pay dispute believed to be in the region of US$1.5million.
With world no49 Trinidad & Tobago vying to capture the Caribbean Cup for a ninth time and expecting to breeze past the Boyz, who they recently turned over in home and away friendlies, they were given a rude awakening.
With the stadium packed to the rafters it was incredible to hear Jamaica’s fans embrace the fact that the Boyz were back to their best and capable of winning the showpiece final.
Jamaica’s back-to-back successes going into the final illustrated that the Boyz were going places, and their fans wanted to witness that.
Those stay away fans who suggested sacking Schafer suddenly returned as started to become as upbeat as the Boyz clearly were.
The final was a disappointing contest in terms of goalscoring opportunities after Jamaica had hit the back of the net six times in three ties with Trinidad & Tobago having scored seven in their first two games.
But Trinidad & Tobago drew a blank for the second match on the trot, although coach Stephen Hart had given his second choice players a run-out in the scoreless draw against Cuba to rest others for the final.
Yet it was Jamaica who came closest to breaking the deadlock, Dane Richards’ speculative drive was parried by shotstopper Williams on 14 minutes and Simon Dawkins fluffed his opportunity to score on the half-hour mark with a tame close-range effort easily scooped by Williams.
With Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks a marked man having bagged a goal in each of the three ties, he threatened little danger.
And Trinidad & Tobago were stifled throughout the game, with the contest appearing to be heading for extra time and possibility a penalty shoot-out.
And the Boyz kept their nerve in the lottery of the shoot-out after Blake’s fantastic save from Jones’ spot-kick, which ultimately gave the hosts a psychological advantage.
For Jamaica to turnaround their woes to glory has been an incredible achievement, they proudly lifted the Caribbean Cup in front of fervent fans for the first time since they won four years ago as defending champions in Martinique.
Haiti squeezed past defending champions Cuba 2-1 in Tuesday’s third-fourth play-off tie at Montego Bay. Jérôme Mechack (57) and Wilde Guerrier (85) on target for the French-speaking nation, Ariel Gonzales bagging a last-gasp consolation goal.
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