Theodore Whitmore’s Reggae Boyz were robbed of snatching their first point in their bid to reach next year’s highly lucrative FIFA World Cup finals, after conceding in the 89th-minute to hosts Mexico last night (2 September).
With the head coach missing a plethora of players from England, due to the UK’s coronavirus travel restrictions, he juggled his squad and must have been delighted that the sides entered the interval scoreless despite being Mexico dominating.
The eeriness of playing in the empty Estadio Azteca, as Mexico were handed a one-game ban following their fans’ anti-gay chant during an Olympic qualifier, was made even worse with the rain lashing down during the second half.
Striker Rogelio Funes Mori, the Argentina-born naturalised Mexican, at least was spared any humiliation from the stands after he fluffed the chance to break the deadlock in the opening half. However, fans crushed him all over social media because he should have buried his close-range header on 24 minutes and somehow he failed to control the ball when Andre Blake parried the ball straight to his feet on 40 minutes.
Yet Mexico, who made waves of first half attacks, were unfortunate not to be handed a 29th-minute spot-kick after Damion Lowe blatantly barged over midfielder Jesus Gallardo with an over enthusiastic tackle.
Alexis Vega finally made the long overdue breakthrough on 49 minutes. He neatly controlled the ball just inside the area, despite being surrounded by three defenders, then slotted into the bottom left corner.
This strike jolted the hosts who could easily have bagged at least three goals before Jamaica equalised, with Roberto Alvarado guilty of a sloppy 63rd-minute finish by casually dragging the ball onto the right-hand post.
Alvarado’s miss could have proved costly for Mexico because Shamar Nicholson levelled matters just two minutes later. He took his chance with aplomb after being gifted the ball, following Jorge Sanchez’s poor clearance, to give eccentric goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa no chance with his powerful drive.
Blake mishandled the ball in Mexico’s next attack, but Alvarado was again too lackadaisical and the overworked shotstopper grabbed the loose ball to thwart the danger.
But Blake, who had fended off a string of attacks, had no answer for Henry Martin’s 89th-minute goal that was thumped into the top right corner as Mexico kicked off their campaign with a deserved victory.
It will be back to the drawing board for head coach Whitmore, who has registered just two victories in Jamaica’s past eight matches – 1-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup triumphs over lowly ranked Guadeloupe and Suriname.
Next up is a home clash with Panama, but at least there will be fans inside Kingston’s National Stadium on Sunday and Whitmore has a strong British contingent to call upon. This includes the powerful West Ham striker Michail Antonio, who is likely to be given his debut.
Aston Villa midfielder Leon Bailey and Brentford defender Ethan Pinnock join in-form Antonio as Jamaica’s only English Premier League stars, who arrived in Kingston on Tuesday, but will not be involved in the contest against Costa Rica on 8 September as the Central American country is red-listed by the UK government.
With other British players only available for the Panama match – Amari’i Bell (Luton Town), Bobby Decordaova-Reid (Fulham), Wes Harding (Rotherham), Daniel Johnson (Preston North End), Jamal Lowe (Swansea City), Liam Moore (Reading), Ravel Morrison (Derby County), Kemar Roofe (Rangers) and Kevin Stewart (Blackpool) – then Whitmore is likely to be fielding a completely different team.
This will be music to the ears of the Jamaica Football Federation who will clearly realise that a vast improvement is needed by the Boyz if their push to secure a spot at the World Cup finals is to become a reality and not a dream. 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.
JAMAICA: Blake – Mariappa, Powell, Lawrence, D.Lowe – Campbell (Flemmings, 62), D.Williams, Grant (Brown, 87) – Burke (Fisher, 80) – R.Williams (East, 62), Nicholson (Vassell, 87). Subs: Barnes, Taylor, Morris, Magee, Turgott, Walker, King
CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers | Canada 1 Honduras 1, Mexico 2 Jamaica 1, Panama 0 Costa Rica 0, USA 0 El Salvador 0
Jamaica’s FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers
2 September | 2-1 defeat to Mexico (a)
5 September | 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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