Theodore Whitmore’s tenure as Jamaica head coach still lies in a precarious position, but thanks to Shamar Nicholson’s fortuitous headed goal the Reggae Boyz picked up their first FIFA World Cup qualifying point with a creditable 1-1 in Costa Rica last night (8 September).
Midfielder Jimmy Marín stroked the hosts into a third-minute lead, with Nicholson levelling matters on 47 minutes. The serendipitous equaliser was enough to halt Jamaica’s dismal record of seven successive World Cup qualifying defeats at Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional in San Jose, a record that dated back to 1965.
Whitmore, under the cosh following Jamaica’s 2-1 reversal in Mexico and 3-0 pasting by Panama in Kingston, rejigged his starting line-up for the third time in a week with the majority of the 15-strong UK contingent absent because of the UK government’s stringent travel restrictions.
He fielded a familiar looking starting line-up, with only the inclusion of Junior Flemmings and defender Tyreek Magee differing from the team that tackled Mexico with aplomb last week.
With both sides low on confidence, Costa Rica having failed to score in their opening pair of qualifiers against Panama (0-0) and Mexico (0-1) respectively, Whitmore handed Nicholson the tough ask of playing as the lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Pacy forward Cory Burke again was out of position, in a midfield role, for his third World Cup qualifier on the bounce.
Costa Rica, who had reeled off a trio of victories against the Boyz without conceding a goal in their previous encounters, made a magical start in cool and rainy conditions. Veteran and skipper Bryan Ruiz brilliantly picked out Jonathan Moya on the back post, who unselfishly headed the ball into the path of Marín to nod past Andre Blake from close range.
Jamaica took their time to show any fightback as they were pinned in their own half. Flemmings’ tentative shot on 17 minutes was easily handled by experienced shotstopper Keylor Navas, who was grateful moments later that Magee’s toe-poked effort was deflected wide of the target.
A goal looked on the cards in the frantic final two minutes before the half-time interval. Marín cleverly wrong-footed defender Alvas Powell, only to curl the ball over the crossbar. Then Burke brilliantly beat four defenders but scuffed his opportunity, as he lost his balance when preparing to shoot and sent the ball over the relieved Navas.
Jamaica’s jitters vanished after their fortunate equaliser. Magee initiated the move by picking out Kemar Lawrence on the left wing, who swiftly crossed for Nicholson. The striker mistimed his jump yet the ball comically came off his shoulder to bamboozle Navas.
Nicholson, who scored a second-half stunner against Mexico, celebrated his second World Cup qualification goal with a wide grin on his face as he seemed to appreciate his fluky strike.
This goal jolted the hosts into action with Blake’s reflex save denying former Arsenal star Joel Campbell on 63 minutes and Marín fluffing his chance five minutes later, because of such poor ball control inside the penalty area.
Whitmore resorted to his predictable tactics of a double substitution with around 20 minutes remaining by bringing on Javon East and Blair Turgott for Cory Burke and Junior Flemmings respectively. Yet this change tightened the contest up with a midfield battle of attrition that ended up in a series of fouls from both teams.
The closing stages became easily the most exciting moments of the dreary second half with each side coming perilously close to snatching victory.Nicholson volleyed wide of the target then East miscued what appeared to be a simple tap-in, with Navas using his legs to sweep the loose ball. Then Blake was equal to Jonathan Moya’s header in added time.
Whitmore will be a relieved man to have finally kick-started their World Cup campaign with a deserved draw against slick-passing Costa Rica, having slipped up 1-0 to the Central American side in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
With Whitmore’s Boyz set to tackle next month’s tricky matches against in-form Canada, Honduras and the United States in a bid to reach Qatar 2022, the reality is that expectations should not be too high on the coach bearing in mind Jamaica’s recent World Cup qualifying record.
The eight teams involved in the round robin World Cup qualifiers are vying for three direct places to Qatar 2022, although the nation that finishes fourth will be involved in an intercontinental play-off. The Boyz prop up the table with a single point and are chasing leaders Mexico (7 points) as well as Canada, USA and Panama (5 points each).
Jamaica have not won a match in the final stage of the regional World Cup qualifying campaign since they saw off Haiti 1-0 in their opening game of the 2018 campaign.
Although Whitmore has a plethora of UK-based players, on the evidence of the past week’s games he seems best to stick with tried and trusted troops who have the fire in their belly to battle their way to next year’s highly lucrative World Cup finals.
JAMAICA: Blake – Mariappa, Powell, Lawrence, D.Lowe – Grant (Watson, 85), D.Williams – Flemmings (Turgott, 69), Magee (Walker, 85), Burke (East, 69) – Nicholson (R.Williams, 90). Subs: Barnes, Brown, Taylor, Campbell, Fisher, Morris, Vassell
CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers | Canada 2 El Salvador 0, Costa Rica 1 Jamaica 1, Honduras 1 USA 4, Panama 1 Mexico 1
Jamaica’s FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers
2 September | 2-1 defeat to Mexico (a)
5 September | 3-0 defeat to Panama (h)
8 September | 1-1 draw with Costa Rica (a)
7 October | USA (a)
10 October | Canada (h)
13 October | Honduras (a)
12 November | El Salvador (a)
16 November | USA (h)
27 January | Mexico (h)
30 January | Panama (a)
2 February | Costa Rica (h)
24 March | El Salvador (h)
27 March | Canada (a)
30 March | Honduras (h)
Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles or to advertise with us please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]