Canada’s late winner dents Jamaica’s hopes of reaching CONCACAF Nations League semi-final
Stephen Eustaquio’s 85th-minute strike earned a slender success as Canada beat Jamaica 2-1 at the National Stadium on Saturday, to take a step closer to earning a prestigious Copa America berth.
Jonathan David’s first-half added time goal sent the sides into the interval with the Maple Leafs having a slight edge after dominating the contest.
Shamar Nicholson levelled matters shortly after the turnaround, only for influential midfielder Eustaquio to dazzle with the winner and grab Canada’s first win on Jamaican soil since 1988.
The CONCACAF Nations League quarter-final first leg, postponed from Friday because of severe rain in Kingston, was always going to be a battlefield at the National Stadium with so much at stake.
As well as the winners booking a place in March’s semi-finals, the team will also qualify for the highly-lucrative 2024 Copa America that features South American heavyweights like Argentina and Brazil.
Canada arrived in a chaotic state. They have an interim manager, their top two forwards have been misfiring at club level and their confidence was truly dented following a 4-1 reversal to Japan.
In contrast, Jamaica may not be firing on all cylinders but had been grinding out the results under head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson until this setback against the Maple Leafs.
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz were keen to avenge the 4-0 thrashing they suffered in Toronto when the sides last met. The Boyz tasted a terrible time during their supposedly easy FIFA World Cup qualifying rounds, while Canada were the surprise package in the CONCACAF region.
There’s been big changes for both teams since that match in March 2022, with Jamaica on an upward spiral results wise ever since ex-Iceland head coach Hallgrimsson took the helm at the start of the year.
He may not have delivered attractive-looking play yet, but he led the Boyz to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-finals. His various tactics and bringing in a plethora of personnel resulted in an unbeaten run in the preliminary round of the Nations League.
Following victories over Grenada, Haiti and Honduras, Hallgrimsson gave reserve players a shot to impress only for Jamaica to share the spoils in their recent dire scoreless draw with Guatemala.
It was back to business with his best players available to face Canada, who were led by Mauro Biello following the recent exit of head coach John Herdman to Toronto FC.
Biello went for safety against Jamaica, naming 19 members of Canada’s World Cup squad in his 23-player squad. This included the out-of-form duo of Lille’s David and RCD Mallorca’s Cyle Larin.
Jamaica now have star striker problems of their own. They were missing Demarai Gray, who has been netting for fun since switching allegiance from England to the Boyz this year, because of a muscle injury. And veteran Michail Antonio limped down the tunnel after being replaced by Trivante Stewart after 20 minutes with a hamstring injury against Canada.
David, who has only scored twice this season in the French top-tier, wasted a couple of early opportunities but skipper Andre Blake was equal to his efforts.
Jamaica came close to breaking the deadlock, only for Leon Bailey’s shot to bounce back off the post from Bobby Decordova-Reid’s telling corner.
The visitors grabbed a deserved lead seconds before the half-time whistle. David turned in his 26th international goal past overworked Blake, following a neat turn and pinpoint cross from Larin.
Yet the Boyz bounced back with aplomb after the turnaround, with their improved display was soon rewarded courtesy of a 56th-minute equaliser from Spartak Moscow hot-shot Nicholson.
Although Nicholson polished off Daniel Johnson’s swiftly-taken freekick past Milan Borjan, his strike was initially ruled out for offside but awarded following VAR intervention and a pitchside monitor check by the referee.
With Hallgrimsson eager to take a win to Toronto’s second leg next week, he gambled with a double substitution on 81 minutes with Mount Pleasant FC striker replacing Stewart and Javain Brown on for Dexter Lembikisa in defence.
However, these changes backfired for the Boyz as four minutes later Eustaquio’s bagged his first international goal since 2021 to end Jamaica’s unbeaten run of five games.
The Porto midfielder latched onto a low cross from Richie Laryea to snatch a late yet deserved winner for Canada, who constantly controlled possession in the middle of the pitch and showed dynamic attacks down the flank.
Jamaica, who fell at the group stage in their previous Nations League forays, face a tough task in the return leg having never won in Canada.
The Nations League second leg will be contested at the BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday (November 21) at 7:30 pm Jamaica time.
JAMAICA | Blake – Lembikisa (Brown 81), Bernard, Pinnock, Leigh – Lautibeaudiere, Johnson – Decordova-Reid, Nicholson, Bailey – Antonio (Stewart 20 – Wrayton Phillips 81). Subs: Hector, T.Gray, Wrayton Phillips, Magee, Knight, Anderson, Lowe, Russell, Williams, Waite.
CONCACAF NATIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS FIRST LEG
Costa Rica 0 Panama 3
Jamaica 1 Canada 2
Honduras 2 Mexico 0
USA 3 Trinidad & Tobago 0
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