Jamaica return to Gold Cup semi-final stage
Darren Mattocks’ 75th-minute penalty propelled Jamaica into their third Gold Cup semi-final on the bounce following a laboured 1-0 triumph over Panama on Sunday.
And the FC Cincinnati striker had only appeared as a substitute two minutes earlier at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
It turned out to be an inspired piece of tactics by head coach Theodore Whitmore as his Reggae Boyz had the edge over their opponents but lacked any real creativity in midfield nor firepower.
Whitmore opted for a cautious starting 4-4-1-1 format and surprisingly picked Dever Orgill to sit behind Shamar Nicholson, the eager forward guilty of squandering endless goal-scoring opportunities against Curaçao in their last outing.
Nicholson failed to make much of an impact against a solid defence, and drew a blank in front of goal by not taking advantage of chances.
Panama were favourites to progress in what was anticipated to be a closely fought match. And they arrived undefeated in their previous six matches against Jamaica. Panama had been impressive in their opening pair of group games before fielding their second string in the 1-0 reversal against the US.
Yet they were stifled throughout by the Boyz, who defended valiantly but should have sealed their fate earlier than midway through the second half.
Leon Bailey, Jamaica’s much-lauded midfield maestro, was recalled and on four minutes saw his left-footed long-range effort sail over the target.
The encounter started to get scrappy with no real excitement until just before the half-hour mark. Then Gabriel Torres set up Abdiel Arroyo, whose shot from the left side of the box was narrowly wide of Jamaica’s goalmouth.
A space of less than 60 seconds saw saves at each end on 43 minutes, which injected.some long overdue excitement into the contest. Jamaica skipper Andre Blake denied Abdiel Arroyo and the Boyz immediately responded to their scare with Dever Orgill coming close to breaking the deadlock.
At least the Boyz concluded the opening half showing that they knew where the goal was. A neat set-piece saw Damion Lowe head the ball into the path of Nicholson, but his effort was off target and with nothing to show for their superiority Jamaica appeared in desperate need of a half-time gee up from Whitmore.
Just before the hour-mark there was a glimmer of hope for Jamaica snatching a deserved lead. Michael Hector set up Junior Flemmings, only for his ambitious shot from outside the box to be saved in the bottom right corner by Panama keeper Luis Mejia.
And 40 seconds later Nicholson’s attempt to score was blocked after being brilliantly picked out by Kemar Lawrence’s telling cross.
Orgill was replaced by Mattocks on 73 minutes, and after Michael Murillo handled the ball in the box up stepped 28-year-old Major League Soccer ace Mattocks to coolly slot the ball into the bottom right corner from the resultant spot-kick.
A further two minutes later and it was Blake who came to Jamaica’s rescue, after the defence was caught fleet footed, to deny Armando Cooper.
But that was the last threat on the Boyz goalmouth, although frustration did set in towards the end for Jamaica.
Nicholson was shown a yellow card on 90 minutes so was.swiftly hauled off to make way for defender Jamoi Topey, and Lowe will miss their semi-final clash after he saw yellow on 90 minutes for time-wasting.
The final whistle, following five minutes of stoppage time, saw overjoyed Jamaica celebrate beating Panama for the first time in 10 years. And the Boyz booked their hat-trick of successive Gold Cup semi-finals with a polished defensive performance but a display that was lacking in goalscoring ideas.
Jamaica, who settled for a runner-up spot in 2015 (to Mexico) and 2017 (USA), will tackle the winner of the quarter-final between Curaçao and the US on Thursday.
The Boyz will be brimming with confidence to reach the final of the biennial competition having seen off the US 1-0 in a recent friendly and already drawn but outplayed Curaçao in their group game.
Haiti face Mexico in the other semi-final on Wednesday, and if the Boyz can sharpen their shooting skills could lift the Gold Cup next Sunday.
JAMAICA: Blake; Powell, Lowe, Francis, Lawrence; Hector, Watson; Flemmings, Bailey; Orgill (Mattocks, 73); Nicholson (Topey, 90). Subs: Lewis, Foster, Morris, Miller, Vassell, Brown, Magee, Lambert, Williams, Knight.
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