Defending Caribbean Cup champions Jamaica held their nerve to edge out French Guiana on penalties after the teams were tied level at full-time plus extra time…
The first semi-final saw Jamaica take on French Guiana at the Stade Pierre-Aliker on Thursday 22 June.
REPORTING FROM FORT-DE-FRANCE, MARTINIQUE – The defending champions started sluggishly as it was Yana Doko who took control of possession and fashioned the best openings in the first half. Kevin Rimane came close to scoring from an in swinging corner and Dwayne Miller in the Jamaican goal had to be alert to tip over. His free-kick fizzed just wide shortly after as French Guiana applied more pressure, with former Chelsea man Florent Malouda pulling the strings in midfield on his official debut for his home country. The breakthrough came roughly midway through the first half as Loic Baal found himself free on the edge of the D and curled the ball into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of Miller. Jamaica had several opportunities to get rid of the danger but failed to clear their lines.
The diagonal switch to one of Oniel Fisher or Junior Flemmings on the right hand side was a common theme to Jamaica’s play. It proved unsuccessful in the early exchanges but the diagonal switch finally worked when Ewan Grandison fed Fisher, and he played in Kevon Lambert who lost his footing at just the wrong time following a purposeful run into the box. Jamaica barely threatened in the final third; Jermaine Johnson took their first shot on target on around half an hour.
The game turned into the ‘Malouda show’ at times as the crowd applauded moments of individual brilliance from a player who has won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup among many other trophies. He floated across the pitch and always seemed to be in space, aware of the players around him. French Guiana could have been two goals to the good leading up to half-time. Shaquille Dutard, also making his official debut and leading the line, ran in behind and located Rimane hovering on the edge of the box. He pulled the trigger but put too much weight on the shot.
The scoreline was a fair one at half-time. Jamaica had not turned up so far and needed a much better performance in the second 45. French Guiana had been the better team and were controlling the middle of the park, helped by the individual skill of Malouda and the availability of Baal as an option to pass to at the base of midfield. Pep Guardiola talks about ‘players with a pause’ and Baal was providing that ‘pause’ for his team – the link between defence and attack.
At the beginning of the second half, Jamaica missed two great chances. A strong header from Lambert forced quick reflexes from Donovan Leon and moments later, Johnson blew a one-on-one, again Leon making himself big. On came Owayne Gordon for Flemmings and Ricardo Morris for Grandison and the pair added a bit more zip to Jamaica’s attacking play. Morris made the assist for Jamaica’s equalizer, crossing for Johnson to clinically put away and set up a tense finish.
There was plenty of drama to come. First, Theodore Whitmore was sent down the tunnel by Bahamian referee Wilson DaCosta for what was presumably dissent. Assistant coach Jerome Waite temporarily took charge in the dugout and didn’t want to speak about the incident after the game. Chances fell to both teams in the latter stages. Gordon showed good strength to work an opening and get a shot off but Leon was there to block. Then Rhudy Evens, drifting inside from the left, tried to play a quick one-two with Arnold Abelinti and steered his long-range shot not too far wide of the post.
Extra time and penalties would decide the outcome of this first semi-final. Teenage striker Shamar Nicholson replaced Johnson at the start of extra time to partner Burke and Jamaica looked a threat with two up front. However, a red card to Ladale Ritchie for bringing down Abelinti right at the start of extra time put Jamaica on the back foot and gave French Guiana numerical superiority. Abelinti used his speed to break the line and was just too quick for Ritchie. Jamaica had another central defender, Damion Lowe, sent off in their final qualifier against Suriname last November and he was watching on from the stands (Lowe is available for selection for Sunday’s final). With players tiring, this was a great opportunity for French Guiana to capitalise on their extra player and make Jamaica work twice as hard. But they didn’t do that. Instead, it was actually Jamaica who created more going forward through Gordon and Nicholson. A loopy corner at the very end forced Miller into making a smart save yet both were tied at 1-1 after normal time and extra time.
Michael Binns went first for Jamaica and missed. Evens went first for French Guiana. And missed. Gordon scored Jamaica’s second. Thomas Issorat scored French Guiana’s second. Shamar Nicholson scored Jamaica’s third. Jean-David Legrand missed French Guiana’s third, saved by Miller. 2-1. Jamaica were in the ascendency. Fisher then scored Jamaica’s fourth and Fabien tucked away French Guiana’s fourth. 3-2. This meant if Burke found the net with Jamaica’s fifth kick then the defending champions would qualify for the final. He scored. 4-2 it finished.
An ecstatic feeling for Jamaica, a horrible feeling for French Guiana. The latter will be kicking themselves that they let their foot off the gas in the second half and failed to make their extra man count in extra time. As for the Reggae Boyz, they played better after the break but will undoubtedly need to perform much better in the final if they are to successfully defend their title.
Post-match quotes below.
Interestingly, in the shoot-out, every taker went left except for Issorat who opted for the bottom right. I asked Jamaica’s goalkeeping coach, Warren Barret, about his assessment of the shoot-out from a goalkeeping perspective after the match: “I advised my goalkeeper by telling him not to jump,” he explains. “Most keepers tend to guess by going in one direction. But in penalty shoot-outs more pressure is on the kicker as they’re expected to score. Most times the kicker will approach the ball and look up to see the keeper jump and place it the other side. So I just told him to stay on his feet as long as possible and focus on the ball. At the end of the day, we came out on top.”
I managed to talk with the assistant coach, Waite, who was impressed by the way in which his team fought back to win the contest: “It was a tough, physical game. We started a little tentatively and didn’t want to give away a goal early. As a result we ended up making a mistake which led to their goal. We created numerous chances that we should have put away before we even reached penalties. The team showed character to come back and win.”
And Junior Flemmings, who made his debut for the senior side at 21 years of age: “I am very grateful for the opportunity. To represent my country at the highest level is a privilege. I think we showed a lot of perseverance and determination and in the end we got the result.”
Yana Doko boss Jair Karam also gave me a few words (translated into English by Simon Preston): “I thought we dropped off in the second half and needed to show more urgency in the final third. The main goal for us is to prepare for the Gold Cup as that is an historic and monumental opportunity for us to prove to the world what we’re capable of. We want to advance to the quarter-finals.”
Jamaica starting lineup: Miller, Fisher, Ritchie, Campbell, Francis, Grandison, Lambert, Flemmings, Binns, Johnson, Burke. Manager: Theodore Whitmore.
Subs: Gordon – Flemmings. Morris – Grandison. Nicholson – Johnson. Unused: Hyatt, Harriott, Robinson, Genus, Brown.
French Guiana starting lineup: Leon, Lescot, Hugues, Fabien, Legrand, Loic Baal, Rimane, Malouda, Abelinti, Evens, Dutard. Manager: Jair Karam.
Subs: Issorat – Dutard. Miguel Haabo – Rimane. Unused: Petit-Homme, Torvic, Contout, Solvi, Jules Haabo, Lugier, Inrick Baal, Edwige, Lesperance.
Referee: Wilson DaCosta (the Bahamas). Assistant referee 1: Trevor Porter (Guyana). Assistant referee 2: Ainsley Rochard (Trinidad & Tobago). Fourth official: Sherwin Moore (Guyana). Match commissioner: Patrick Beckles (Barbados).
By Nathan Carr
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