Andre Gray’s first international goal earned Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz a creditable draw against European heavyweights Serbia in Japan today (7 June).
The Watford striker broke the deadlock after 29 minutes with a sensational strike to stun Dragan Stojkovic’s side, but the Boyz were finally pinned by after Andrija Pavlovic equalised on 61 minutes.
With just a 19-strong squad, which included three goalkeepers, due to travel issues meant Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore was forced to field an experimental side against Serbia.
Whitmore, Jamaica’s defensively-minded head coach, started with a flat back five leaving Gray and Costa Rica-based Javon East upfront. His tactics worked wonders as the Boyz bossed the friendly, surprisingly overwhelming their FIFA world-ranked no.25 opponents with eight shots compared to three in the one-sided opening half.
Both nations were missing their regular captains, Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake and Serbia striker Dusan Tadic notable absentees but the Boyz were ably led by Egypt-based midfielder Damion Lowe.
Serbia head coach Stojkovic, who used to play before managing in Japan with Nagoya Grampus, must have been shocked by Jamaica’s speed as the Serbs always rely on their controlled and physical game. Yet the result extended Serbia’s unbeaten run to eight games.
With the Boyz clearly on top from the start, it came as no surprise that they opened the scoring. A slick break saw Gray race down the left wing and outclass on-rushing keeper Djordje Nikolic on the edge of the area with some nifty footwork. Gray, in only his second international match, confidently fired the ball into the empty net from an acute angle with a remarkable goal.
But there were no fans to celebrate inside the Miki Athletic Stadium in Kobe. Japan is suffering a fourth wave of COVID-19, which meant that although friendly was played behind closed doors it did not deter the waves of attack from the industrious Jamaica team.
This was a very different display to the one that saw the Boyz easily torn apart 4-1 by the United States in March’s exhibition game, even though Whitmore once more had little choice over his final squad.
After the turnaround Whitmore altered his line-up, opting for an untried 4-2-2-2 formation by employing Adrian Mariappa and Devon Williams as double sweepers to effectively ‘park the bus’ and frustrate Serbia.
But a prolonged melee around the penalty area ended in second-half substitute Pavlovic rocketing his effort into the bottom right-hand corner to unnerve the Boyz with a well-taken equaliser.
Whitmore felt challenged on the sidelines, so he reacted by constantly swapping personnel although the strangest substitution was bringing on defender Curtis Tilt for goal hero Gray with 11 minutes remaining. However, his gamble paid off, with the Boyz’ spirited performance likely to propel Jamaica further up the world rankings from their current position of no.45.
Jamaica, with just two triumphs from 11 past games, are scheduled to tackle Japan’s Olympic U23 team on Saturday (12 June) in Nagoya. They kick-off their CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against Suriname on 13 July and, if they can replicate this sort of display, will be confident of making an impact at the tournament.
JAMAICA | Taylor – Fisher, Moore, Harding, Bell – Mariappa, Williams (Lambert, 86 mins) – Lowe (Morrison, 72 mins), Turgott (Malcolm, 57 mins) – East, Gray (Tilt, 79 mins). Subs: Barnes, White, Levee, Isaacs
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