Andre Blake, the Jamaican skipper and shot stopper, made a masterful save on the hour-mark to help the Reggae Boyz earn a share of the spoils with a scoreless draw against Canada in their home CONCACAF World Cup qualifier last night (10 October).
Jamaica are the first side to deny John Herdman’s free-scoring side in the qualifiers, with the Canadians having previously grabbed goals in six successive games.
And it was Blake who showed exactly why he is the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with Philadelphia Union, by spectacularly scrambling away Liam Millar’s close-range effort.
With both nations missing key players and the encounter played on a bumpy pitch at Kingston’s empty National Stadium because of COVID-19, it became a match of attrition with Canada in control against their physical and resilient hosts.
Head coach Theodore Whitmore, who acknowledged that his side’s inability to find the back of the net is becoming ever more frustrating, was once more reliant on Belgium-based striker Shamar Nicholson. But the Charleroi star had only bagged 10 goals in 26 previous international appearances, although against Canada was given some support upfront thanks to Rangers’ livewire Kemar Roofe.
Yet Roofe squandered his chance to break the deadlock midway through the opening half, unable to bury Kemar Lawrence’s free-kick by flashing his header wide of the target.
The Boyz came even closer a few minutes later. Bobby Decordova-Reid’s cross from the right was blocked by a defender with the loose ball comically bouncing around inside the box before Junior Flemmings’ back post header narrowly missed the gaping goalmouth.
Alvas Powell went down injured just 10 minutes before the interval, which forced Whitmore into replacing the makeshift central defender with midfielder Devon Williams that resulted in veteran forward Je-Vaughn Watson moving from midfield to defence.
At half-time it was Canada who had dominated midfield throughout the largely uneventful opening half. Whitmore’s usual tactics, of defending in droves in the first 45 minutes in order to frustrate opponents, worked wonders once more but lacked any bravado or entertainment value.
With Jamaica having scored just twice in their previous four qualifiers, it seemed as though they would finally be rewarded for their perseverance only for Flemmings’ 50th-minute header to be denied by the upright.
At the other end of the pitch Millar squandered his golden opportunity to notch his first international goal. Alphonso Davies’ stunning low cross looked certain to be polished off only for Blake to race back and force a corner.
With Canada pushing for a deserved breakthrough and bombarding the Jamaican half to earn a string of corners, it was a question of when Whitmore would predictably revert to his usual ploy of changing personnel in a desperate bid to snatch a late goal.
Sure enough there was a triple substitution on 74 minutes with strikers Javon East, Andre Gray and Jamal Lowe thrown into the cauldron to up the ante.
With 10 minutes remaining a counter-attack saw Roofe thunder in a hopeful drive from outside the box, which was only narrowly wide of the target. This attack jolted the visitors into action, with Alistar Johnson and Davies eagerly trying their luck to no avail.
In the dying seconds of added time keeper Maxime Crepeau was forced to make an incredible full stretched save, diving to his left to parry away Lawrence’s left-footed rip-roarer. But as neither team were at their peak nor proved to be much of a scoring threat then a crucial point after the fifth of 14 qualifiers seemed a suitable reward. Canada has not qualified for the World Cup finals since 1986, with Jamaica having appeared just once in 1998 when Whitmore played an influential role in midfield.
Whitmore admitted: “Keeping a clean sheet is a positive. I am very pleased with the entire unit because we worked as a team and we battled together.”
However, Jamaica continue to prop up the eight-team table in their bid to reach Qatar 2022, still seeking their first success during this campaign. However, they will be surely be confident of chalking up their first victory when they tackle hosts Honduras on 13 October.
Despite the Boyz’ squad being jam-packed with star strikers, Whitmore rarely plays them in their preferred position. His transparent tactics during these qualifiers have also made it easy for the opposition to stifle Jamaica.
With nine qualifiers remaining Jamaica need to take the bulls by the horns and grab maximum points against Honduras, otherwise it could be mission impossible to reach Qatar campaign and potentially game over as head coach for Whitmore.
JAMAICA: Blake – Lawrence, Mariappa, Powell (Williams, 38), Fisher – Flemmings (Gray, 74), Watson, Grant, Decordaova-Reid (East, 74) – Nicholson (J.Lowe, 74), Roofe. Subs: Topey, Brown, Barnes, Magee, White
CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers table (after 5 matches) | Mexico 11pts, USA 8pts, Panama 8pts, Canada 7pts, El Salvador 6pts, Costa Rica 6pts, Honduras 3pts, Jamaica 2pts
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 | 2-0 defeat to USA (a)
10 October | 0-0 draw with 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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