Michail Antonio’s much-hyped Jamaica debut lasted only 70 disappointing minutes as Theodore Whitmore’s Reggae Boyz were swept aside 3-0 inside Kingston’s empty National Stadium last night (5 September).
The burly West Ham striker failed to make much impact as the hosts were comprehensively beaten in their second FIFA World Cup qualifier, to remain the only nation without a point in the CONCACAF round robin format.
Head coach Whitmore had the luxury of a 15-player British contingent to tackle Panama, following last week’s flattering 2-1 defeat in Mexico. He shook up his starting line up yet retained skipper Andre Blake between the sticks and forward Cory Burke to sit behind the two main attackers.
Blake, who did not look his normally authoritative self against Mexico as they peppered him with shots, again lacked his usual composure and should have prevented at least one of the Panama goals.
Panama, who were frustratingly held to a scoreless draw at home by Costa Rica despite a dominant display in their previous outing, maintained their same starting 11. They gelled well to produce fabulous football against the lumbering Boyz from the first whistle.
It was clear that there would only be one winner as the confident visitors, courtesy of neat passing and superb tactics, bossed the match. Panama easily extended their unbeaten World Cup qualifying run against Jamaica to seven matches thanks to first-half strikes from Andres Andrade and Rolando Blackburn, with Cecilio Waterman adding a late goal.
Panama came, they saw and they conquered with aplomb. The last time that the Boyz defeated Panama was with a well orchestrated 2019 Gold Cup quarter-final success, when Darren Mattocks slotted home the decisive penalty.
But there seemed zero chance of Jamaica repeating that feat as they played second fiddle throughout, surprisingly permitting Panama time and space. The contest was one-way from the very start, with the Boyz struggling to keep the ball and being completely bamboozled by their opponents.
Defender Andrade finally broke the deadlock with a sensational 14th-minute strike. The centre back raced into the centre circle, where he robbed the hosts of a lacklustre attempted pass, then dribbled the ball towards the box. With the Jamaican defenders holding back, Andrade did not hesitate to pick his spot with a thumping drive into the bottom left.Blake made amends 20 minutes later to prevent Jose Luis Rodriguez’s curling effort, and 90 seconds later held onto Blackburn’s header.
But Panama, who had the bit between their teeth, deservedly doubled their lead on 39 minutes. Blackburn easily beat Liam Moore to Eric Davis’ right wing cross to powerfully head the ball into the centre of the gaping goalmouth, when Blake should have dealt with the danger.
The Jamaica players trooped off at half-time with their tail between their legs, in stark contrast to the visitors who danced at the interval whistle. The only positive point for the Boyz was that the match was played behind closed doors, because of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, otherwise the home fans would surely have been booing such an apathetic performance.
Jamaica were disjointed and their front line was listless. It was therefore no surprise that Whitmore hauled off the English-based duo of Ravel Morrison and Bobby Decordova-Reid to replace them with the attacking pair of Devon Williams and Junior Flemmings respectively.
This double substitution instilled a bit more belief in the Boyz, but the much-hailed appearance of 31-year-old Antonio still fell flat with the visitors cleverly slowing down the pace of the game.
Whitmore made another pair of substitutions on 70 minutes, swapping Shamar Nicholson for the ineffective Antonio and replacing Wes Harding with Alvas Powell in defence.
Nicholson, who scored against Mexico, added some impetus and came perilously close to making an instant impact only for shotstopper Luis Mejia to be equal to his 77th-minute effort.
Five minutes later Waterman wrapped up the scoring, cutting through the defence like a knife through butter to plant the ball past out-of-sorts Blake.
This was a wake-up call for Whitmore, who will not have his British contingent to call upon when they face UK government red-listed hosts Costa Rica on Wednesday. The Ticos, edged out 1-0 by Mexico last night, have yet to score in their World Cup qualifiers and will be aiming to repeat their recent Gold Cup success over Jamaica.
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) are heavily relying on bringing in British players, such as the powerful Antonio, to bring them success in their bid to secure a spot at next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar. Yet the reality, as the United States are also discovering after resting their stars at the Gold Cup, is that players have to gel as a unit to prove effective.
Whitmore, whose apparent tactics tend to be defend throughout the opening half and with around 20 minutes send on two key players, needs to rethink his approach for the crucial Costa Rica encounter and pick his team on form rather than reputation.
His troops have bagged just one goal in their past four matches, which have all ended in defeat, and there seems no sign of improving on this dismal record.
Unless there is a drastic improvement then the JFF will be no doubt be looking at plans to replace Whitmore at the helm because Qatar 2022 is so highly lucrative. However, regardless of the Costa Rica result, surely Whitmore will be given next month’s trio of World Cup qualifiers to prove his worth.
JAMAICA: Blake – Harding (Powell, 70), Moore, Pinnock, Lawrence – Morrison (D.Williams, 45), Johnson, Roofe – Burke – Decordova-Reid (Flemmings, 45), Antonio (Nicholson, 70). Subs: Fisher, Barnes, Brown, Turgott, Walker, Mariappa, Magee, Taylor
CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers | Costa Rica 0 Mexico 1, El Salvador 0 Honduras 0, Jamaica 0 Panama 3, USA 1 Canada 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 | 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)
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