A new-look Jamaican national team earned a truly historic point against Mexico in 2014 World Cup qualifying on Wednesday night – here I look back at the match…
Jamaica went to the Azteca with a clear gameplan: to attack Mexico. And they executed it thoroughly, arguably creating the best chances of the game and at the same time defending stoutly. It was suppose to be a stroll for the Mexicans. But manager Theodore Whitmore’s men hassled and hurried their opponents and it worked a treat.
Jamaica had a positive attitude right from the start, though. Whitmore explained before the match: “If we go down to Mexico thinking that we are going to lose the game then we have already lost the game.” It was the right attitude to have and you could see the former national team member – who had brief spells in England as a player – drummed that belief into his players from the word go.
Jamaica went to the Azteca with a clear gameplan and they executed it thoroughly
He also insisted that the squad he had selected to take to Mexico was the strongest…ever. In all of Jamaica’s footballing history. It’s very much a new-look setup with a mixture of home-grown talent and British-born players with Jamaican heritage. But the call-ups have and will make a tremendous impact.
Sheffield Wednesday’s dynamic winger Jermaine Johnson was re-called after a lengthy absence out, as to was Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff (below) who made his international debut in 2002. Bristol City midfield engine Marvin Elliot was handed just his second cap and Reading’s quick attacker Garath McCleary and Derby’s explosive forward Theo Robinson won their first ever international call-ups. Add these players to the likes of Dane Richards of Burnley and Rodolph Austin (above, right) of Leeds who have more than 90 caps between them and you end up with a very accomplished, well equipped team.
Few gave Jamaica the slightest bit of hope before the encounter. So-called ‘pundits’ were quick to point to the statistics: Mexico were on a 19-game winning streak and had won 12 out of their previous 16 meetings with The Reggae Boyz. The widespread Mexico-to-win predictions were inevitable. But the stats didn’t faze Jamaica in the slightest.
Whitmore’s troops began brightly and should have been 1-0 up inside the first few moments. It was McAnuff with the glaring chance as McCleary picked out his club teammate inside the box only for the former to hit the post. The ball rebounded back right into the midfielder’s path but with the goal gaping he shot right at the Mexico goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona. What a miss.
It was evident from the very beginning, though, that Jamaica weren’t here just to make up the numbers and sit back. They were going to give Mexico a hard time. Some teams would have come and ‘parked the bus’ but that’s not The Reggae Boyz’s ethos. I’m not entirely sure Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre’s side were expecting such a vibrant start.
The stats were against Jamaica: Mexico were on an impressive 19-game winning streak and had a superior head-to-head record
The hosts then started to attack with regularity but they created no real clear-cut opportunities and Jamaica held on. The defence was solid and midfield base of Elliot and Austin stymied Mexico’s attacking purpose in the centre.
As the match wore on, Mexico began to fade and Jamaica – although getting edged out significantly in shots – produced by far the better chances. Portland Timbers striker Ryan Johnson had a golden opportunity in the second-half but again Jamaica weren’t clinical enough as the big no.9 struck right at Corona’s arms.
Robinson was substituted on with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining and looked sharp. McAnuff, bar his miss in the early stages, was outstanding, the jet-heeled McCleary caused all sorts of problems on the wide right and it was a great clean sheet. Mariappa and Nyron Nosworthy were terrific in handling the potent threat of Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez.
Another pleasing aspect was how effective Jamaica’s 4-5-1 system was. Johnson played the lone striker but was supported frequently by the marauding wingers while the two defensive midfielders gave the backline much-needed protection. The new faces have seemed to blended really well with the household figures and it promises much for the Jamaican supporters – who crave for their team to another World Cup following their first ever appearance in 1998 in France.
El Tri fashioned a string of late chances, notably Hernandez’s close-range shot parried away by the exceptional Jamaica stopper Donovon Ricketts. It was a fairly even contest but Jamaica were left to rue their missed shots. It speaks volumes about the island’s development, mind, that they were somewhat displeased about leaving the Azteca with a draw.
The Jamaican supporters are craving for their team to reach their second ever World Cup (their last in 1998)
It’s a point that takes Whitmore’s side to fourth in the group after Honduras beat the US and Panama salvaged a draw against Costa Rica. Next up is a tricky test at Independence Park in Kingston against Panama in March.
A chorus of boos ringed around the Azteca as the referee blew his final whistle. The Mexico fans were most disappointed and it’s understandable; their players had looked sluggish and a mere shadow of their recent displays. Let’s not forget eight players from Mexico’s 2012 London Olympic’s football victory were featuring. It puts it into context.
Jamaica assistant coach Alfredo Montesso appeared delighted with the players’ performance after the tie. He alluded to the initial doubt that the team would pull anything off but was adamant that they could do so.
”We knew that we could pull it off, we knew we can play. Perhaps it’s a surprise for many, but not for us. Before this round, we were told that we had a 17 percent chance to qualify for the World Cup, I think we just improve those odds today.’
By Nathan Carr