Michail Antonio’s cameo role as a late substitute, which resulted in his sensational strike, was not enough for Jamaica to bag vital maximum World Cup qualifying points in El Salvador today (13 November).
The West Ham talisman, who was poor in his only other appearance for the Reggae Boyz in September, made an immediate impact after appearing as a 74th-minute substitute.
He lit up the dull ambience inside the Estadio Cuscatlan by racing from the halfway line, and charged like a raging bull towards the goalmouth. The powerful striker easily breezed past the pair of defenders before deftly chipping the ball over on-rushing keeper Mario Gonzalez to claim his first ever international goal with style.
After the Jamaicans went ahead on 82 minutes, the visitors should have shut up shop. However, they conceded a last-gasp goal to disappointingly settle for a share of the spoils, which makes qualifying for Qatar 2022 an uphill battle.
Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore, who was appointed for a fourth time in 2016, will be definitely be under the cosh if his Boyz fail against the mighty United States in Kingston on 16 November.
But now he has a key player, who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the team with his determination and sheer brilliance. Because Antonio often suffers from hamstring injuries it was probably a forced move by his club that the 31-year-old only appeared late on in El Salvador.
Had Antonio played from the start, and he probably will do in the National Stadium against the US, then this would surely would have been three precious points for the Boyz.
The sole excitement in the lacklustre opening half were the two long-range efforts from the hosts, which both rebounded off the crossbar.
As usual Whitmore reverted to his traditional tactics of bringing on a trio of subs midway through the second half. Cory Burke, Ravel Morrison and Devon Williams were thrown on to replace the largely ineffective combination of Bobby Decordova-Reid, Anthony Grant and JeVaugh Watson respectively.
This change of personnel upped the tempo, although it remained a midfield battle in a poor match. But the introduction of Antonio finally sprang the contest to life.
The no nonsense forward took the game by the scruff of the neck. He collected the ball on the left side, raced towards goal without a care in the world, and effortlessly bagged his maiden international goal with aplomb.
Whitmore made an 88th-minute change, bringing on Liam Moore for Leon Bailey, but two minutes later looked on in disbelief as Antonio’s strike was cruelly cancelled out
El Salvador, who last competed at the World Cup back in 1982, went delirious on the bench after skipper Alex Roldan headed home Jairo Henríquez’s cross from the right. He beat keeper Andre Blake by powering the ball just underneath the crossbar, which earned the hosts a crucial point.
El Salvador’s draw in San Salvador extended their unbeaten run against the Boyz to four matches. It gives them a fighting chance of still making it to next year’s World Cup finals.
Jamaica, whose only appearance at the World Cup finals was back in 1998, are clinging onto their dreams of reaching Qatar. But with their next opponents being the big boys of the US, Mexico and Panama respectively, they are unlikely to succeed.
Whitmore has just one victory from seven World Cup qualifiers, which is the halfway stage, and defeat on home soil to the United States would perhaps end their realistic hopes of finishing in the top four of the eight nation table.
A change of coach will undoubtedly be considered by the Jamaica Football Federation should the Boyz suffer a reversal in their next game. Whitmore’s tactics are way too predictable, which partly accounts for why they have failed to find the back of the net in five of their previous eight matches across all competitions.
The US, who stunned Mexico 2-0 to take over the top of the World Cup qualifying table, have blown hot and cold in this campaign but arrive in high spirits after destroying Mexico.
Should Whitmore be permitted to utilise Antonio’s talents for the entire match against the US, then the Boyz could be back on track for Qatar.
JAMAICA: Blake – Lawrence, Mariappa, Lowe, Fisher – Grant (Morrison, 63), Watson (Williams, 63) – Decordova-Reid (Burke, 63), Roofe (Antonio, 74), Bailey (Moore, 88) – Nicholson. Subs: Leigh, Powell, Flemmings, Miller, Brown, Walker, White.
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