Paul Hall’s debut as head coach of Jamaica ended in a 3-0 reversal to Peru on Thursday, albeit with the Reggae Boyz fielding a weakened side except for a handful of stalwarts.
Jamaica’s warm-up match in Peru, ahead of three tough CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, was designed for Hall to rue his eye over players to bolster his squad but instead saw a hefty defeat and highlighted their flaws.
The 49-year-old, who took over the reins from axed Theodore Whitmore last month, was not expecting to leave the Estadio Nacional del Perú in Lima with a victory against such illustrious opponents. However, having only a largely experimental squad available effectively meant this was more like a C squad than a B squad for the former Reggae Boy.
Luis Iberico got the ball rolling to break the deadlock early in the second half, Alex Valera doubled the score midway through with Yoshimar Yotun polishing off matters with a late strike for a comfortable home victory.
Peru, who had a limited number of fans inside the 40,000 capacity stadium, had held Panama to a 1-1 draw the previous weekend yet found the Boyz’ defensive strategy tricky in an even opening half of few goal-scoring opportunities.
Defender Damion Lowe, who has just moved back to the USA from Egypt, was skipper and ably commanded his troops over the opening 45 minutes yet was surprisingly hauled off in the second half.
Hot-shot striker Jourdaine Fletcher should have done better early on, but sent his effort sailing high over the gaping goalmouth, with the first goal-scoring opportunity of the match.
Amal Knight heroically denied Jairo Concha on 19 minutes. His save led to a swift counter-attack that came perilously close to opening the scoring. Javain Brown’s telling cross picked out teenager Deshane Beckford, but he was unable to mark his debut with a dream headed goal as shotstopper Pedro Gallese brilliantly dived to fend off the danger.
The Boyz held their own for the first half-hour but then started to wane, having come out of the starting blocks too quickly and seemingly run of steam as well as ideas.
Jamaica continued to implement exactly the same tactics that Whitmore had long instilled and Hall had adopted, having stepped up from assistant coach.
The Boyz dealt with the constant attacking pressure. It was only courtesy of Knight’s point-blank save on 33 minutes from Aldo Corzo’s header that earned them Hall’s side a scoreless first half.
After the turnaround it became Boyz versus men as Peru upped the tempo and ran the rest of the match. The hosts poured forward at every opportunity. This saw the visitors repeatedly crumple under pressure, which was not surprising as many players were not used to such intensity and had never competed on the international arena.
Knight was finally beaten on 48 minutes. Iberico, who scored against Panama, outleaped the flat-footed defenders to head home a neat free-kick with aplomb to start the rot.
Jamaica’s jaws dropped and so did their enthusiasm. The team, primarily comprising island-based players, suddenly lacked any belief or resilience that they showed in the opening half.
Knight looked uncharacteristically nervous between the sticks after conceding, and was fortunate that his mistake did not lead to a second goal. A misplayed clearance fell at the feet of substitute Horacio Calcaterra, who swiftly delivered the ball into the path of Valera but rushed his shot and dragged it wide of the target.
However, Jamaica did get one chance in the second half, but Lamar Walker wasted his opportunity by sending his 63th-minute high and wide. This scuffed effort was typical of the way that the Boyz were performing since the half-hour mark.
They were now clinging onto just a one-goal deficit that echoed Whitmore’s tactics of not suffering hefty reversals, and sure enough Hall copied the tactics of his former boss by bringing on a triple substitution. This was highly questionable as the Boyz already looked lost yet took off Lowe and the experienced duo of Kemar Lawrence and Peter-Lee Vassell with Ricardo Thomas, Javain Brown and Ramone Howell joining the action respectively.
Hall’s tactics backfired as it initially upset the balance of the team. Yet more defensive dithering saw Alex Valera swiftly intercept the stray ball, which was carelessly played across the area by 38-year-old Je-Vaughn Watson, and fire into the net for two-goal cushion on 66 minutes. This marked the game well and truly over for the apathetic Boyz and their dismal tactics that have constantly failed to pay dividends.
With the Boyz’ confidence rapidly crumpling and the home fans screaming for more goals, it came as no surprise when Yosimar Yotune’s audacious long-range effort was thumped past fully-stretched Knight with eight minutes remaining.
Although the encounter was set up to evaluate players ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, there was little for Hall and his squad to feel elated by. He may have given some international experience to a handful of players, but Peru simply outclassed the Boyz with 17 shots to Jamaica’s five partly reflecting this one-sided contest.
Hall will have his elite members back to tackle Mexico in the empty National Stadium in Kingston on Thursday (27 January), when a defeat will surely end Jamaica’s slender chance of reaching the FIFA World Cup finals.
There are six matches remaining in the eight-team group, with the top three nations automatically qualifying for Qatar 2022. The fourth-place team faces a play-off against an Oceania side, which is the berth that Hall is chasing while he in is temporary charge during these remaining World Cup qualifiers.
Jamaica lie in sixth spot with just seven points from their opening eight matches. Yet Whitmore had steadied the ship to take the Boyz on an unbeaten run of four games and concede just two goals.
Hall has effectively failed in his first mission at the helm, albeit with a severely weakened squad, so he cannot be truly judged on that one display. Peru are no slouches, having won their World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela and Bolivia in November after narrowing suffering a 1-0 reversal to mighty Argentina.
He has his work cut out when Mexico, who lie third in the group behind the United States and table-topping Canada, line up for what is expected to be a highly physical encounter. If the Kingston pitch remains as bumpy as recent matches then there could ultimately be errors, and the speed of the Caribbean stars should outstrip the Mexicans so the Boyz are in with a shot of glory unless the same dismal tactics are employed.
Jamaica travel to fourth-placed Panama three days later (30 January) before hosting Costa Rica on 2 February. Anything less than two victories in these three games will realistically end Jamaica’s dream of competing in November’s World Cup finals.
JAMAICA: Knight – Lawrence (Thomas, 62), King, Lowe (Topey, 63), Brown (M.Howell, 79) – Vassell (Rose, 63), Williams, Watson (R.Howell, 83) – Walker, Fletcher, Beckford (Atkinson, 84). Subs: Shaw, Chong, Campbell, White
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table (after 8 games)
Canada 16pts (+8 goal difference), USA 15pts (+7), Mexico 14pts (+4), Panama 14pts (+2), Costa Rica 9pts (-1), Jamaica 7pts (-4), El Salvador 6pts (-6), Honduras 3pts (-10)
Jamaica’s remaining matches
Mexico (h) 27 January, Panama (a) 30 January and Costa Rica (h) 2 February, El Salvador (h) 24 March, Canada (a) 27 March, Honduras (h) 30 March
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