The pressure on Winfried Schäfer, Jamaica’s head coach, eased entirely after he guided his side to a jittery 2-0 triumph over Haiti at the Montego Bay Sports Complex on Sunday night.
With the German coach heavily criticised prior to the eight-team tournament for a string of dreadful displays, let his Reggae Boyz loose on the French-speaking island and came up trumps.
And the victory propelled the hosts into Tuesday’s Caribbean Cup final against Trinidad & Tobago, which is an amazing turnaround in fortunes since they were outclassed by Martinique in their opening tie of the tournament.
Schäfer fielded the same starting line-up that turned over Antigua & Barbuda 3-0 with aplomb on Friday. Their flowing football in the first-half was rewarded with a Simon Dawkins opener on 13 minutes with the outstanding Darren Mattocks doubling their lead seven minutes later.
But after the turnaround it was different contest, the Boyz defending resolutely to keep out the dangers imposed by Haiti’s impressive strike force of Kerven Fils Belfort, who scored twice against Martinique on Friday, and Sony Norde. The statistics show that Haiti were imposing themselves on Jamaica with six corners but not conceding one and having 61% of possession.
Haiti may be ranked 20 places higher, at world no. 93, above Jamaica according to FIFA but their record against the Boyz is dismal. Haiti’s previous success surprisingly stretches back to a slender 1-0 win at Kingston’s Independence Park in 1984.
And with history in their favour and their tails up following a first victory in eight games, the Boyz were buzzing and fearless as they took the game to Haiti to dominate in the early stages.
With the tie a must-win contest for both sides, the winner rewarded with a final showdown against former champions Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday, Jamaica poured forward at every opportunity.
Schäfer, whose spell as coach has been disappointing until the Caribbean Cup, had never indicated that he would resign if his side failed to make it through the group stages despite all the rumours and discord amongst fans.
He was holding onto his job by his fingertips after their stalemate against Martinique to kick off their tournament, but for the second game on the bounce sent out a side with fearsome attacking potential that saw Colorado Rapids’ Deshorn Brown join Dawkins and Mattocks in a three-pronged frontline.
The forwards proved bothersome for Haiti with Derby County’s Dawkins breaking the deadlock on 13 minutes. And a neat move that saw influential captain Rodolph Austin pick out in-form Mattocks resulted in the Vancouver Whitecaps hitman slotting home on 20 minutes.
With goals a rare commodity since Schäfer took over, Mattocks appears to be the forward who can deliver the goods after scoring in all three Caribbean Cup ties and will be eager to add to his tally on Tuesday night.
Yet it wasn’t all one-way traffic. There were a series of brief scares for the hosts in the second-half, with Haiti creating chances to keep shotstopper Andre Blake busy between the sticks. And Blake’s brilliance continued with a last-gasp save after Haiti won a penalty.
But Jamaica, who leaked 17 goals in six games coming into the Caribbean Cup, have shored up their defence and boast the meanest defence of all eight nations having conceded just the one strike by Martinique in their opening tie of the tournament.
Back-to-back wins, after suffering five defeats in six games coming into the tournament, has lifted the Boyz to a new level and they are suddenly on the verge of glory when Trinidad & Tobago stand between them a sixth Caribbean Cup. The transformation over two matches has been nothing short of remarkable.
Leeds United’s Austin, oozing with confidence for the final, admitted: “We have to think positive and go out there to try and win.”
And before the showpiece match Haiti, group runners up, will tackle defending champions Cuba in Tuesday’s third-fourth play-off.
Schäfer, who has finally got his Boyz firing on all cyclinders, said: “I’m here working very hard with my players, and there is a bright future for Jamaica’s football.”
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