It wasn’t the result they wanted. However, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz broke a four-match losing streak by drawing 0-0 with Panama in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying football match last night, the first for new coach Winifred ‘Winnie’ Schaefer.
The Jamaicans were hoping for a victory to keep alive faint hopes of advancing to next year’s finals in Brazil, but they limped to three points while staying bottom of the six-nation group.
Three teams will automatically qualify for Brazil, while the fourth-placed finisher will tackle Oceania champions New Zealand in a home and away play-off to secure a berth.
Boos greeted the final whistle at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City last night as disappointed home fans voiced disapproval with the goalless result, which saw Panama move to seven points, as they stayed second from bottom.
Costa Rica, now on 14 points, leapfrogged the United States (13) to be the new leaders, following their 3-1 win last night, while Honduras enhanced their chances in last night’s other Hexagonal play-off with a 2-1 victory over Mexico at the Azteca. The Hondurans are third with 10 points, while Mexico lie fourth with eight.
Jamaica ended the game with 10 players following the ejection of the influential Rodolph Austin at the 57th minute for a second bookable offence. Austin had picked up his first yellow card at the 32nd minute, also for a cynical and unnecessary challenge.
The Jamaicans were well organised and played a disciplined game and while Panama had more possession, they were not able to penetrate the Jamaican defence and create clear scoring chances, even while they had a one-man advantage for the last third of the match.
Then, they increased the tempo while attacking and forced themselves into dangerous positions but could not score, even as they hit the goalpost at the Jamaica end at the 64th minute.
Strikers Marlon King, Luton Shelton and defenders Jermaine Taylor and Lloyd Doyley returned to the Jamaica starting team, while English-based Shaun Cummings and Wesley Morgan were given debuts by newly-appointed German coach Schaefer, handling the reins for his first Jamaica World Cup qualifying match and looking to steal a win with a safety-first formation and approach.
Both centre half Morgan and flank defender Cummings blocked goal-bound shots almost on the line and contributed well to Jamaica’s defence, which worked hard and played a disciplined game throughout.
Cummings made a crucial block on the goalline at the post to save a goal, after Cecilio Waterman had volleyed a corner kick from near the penalty spot at the 39th minute. Morgan was ever present and also made some good blocks throughout.
Otherwise, the Reggae Boyz were competitive, but never did enough to pose any real danger on Panama’s goal and could not get off any really threatening shot.
Shelton, in strike partnership with King – who came out of self-imposed international retirement after being overlooked by previous coach Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore – was a constant threat and offered most on the offensive end.
He made a couple good link up plays with King, who was sluggish and looked a bit overweight, lacked cutting edge and ended up being ineffective as he lost the ball on a lot of occasions.
To a large degree, the 3-5-2 formation employed by Jamaica, different to that used in recent matches, gave the team more leverage and afforded numbers at the back on all occasions.
It clogged up the spaces in the middle of defence and forced Panama to seek a channel to goal down the flanks. They were able to get in several crosses, but none in open play turned out to be dangerous against a well positioned Jamaican defence, which won the first ball on many occasions and when they didn’t, were swift enough to block any attempt that might have led to a fifth consecutive losing finish.
That too, was not the result they wanted. But their inability to get the three points has made their work much harder, as they can now only maximise nine points from the remaining matches.
Should they take all, it would leave the Boyz with 12 points and wishing they’re enough to seal an unlikely straight qualifying, or play-off spot to Brazil.