It's when you win that counts
Hubert Lawrence, Contributor
As early as the morning after Jamaica's nail-biting win in the CFU Men's Caribbean Cup, fans were asking for more.
Not satisfied with a sixth hold on the Cup, some fans echoed the age-old call for more local-based players to staff the team and for more stylish play. That request replaced the complaints about a string of losses before the Caribbean Cup began.
That sequence of losses to teams including France and the Cup took my mind back to the summer of 1996. Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey ran virtually winless on the Grand Prix circuit and lost badly when Atlanta opened its Olympic Stadium.
In the 100 metres there, he was well beaten in a race where Americans Dennis Mitchell and Carl Lewis went one-two. When the Canadian returned to Atlanta for the Games, Lewis was a spectator, having only made the United States team in the long jump.
Bailey trounced a field, including Mitchell, in the Olympic 100 final with a world record of 9.84 seconds. He probably wouldn't trade that race for anything on the pre-Olympic circuit.
Like Bailey in that super 1996 summer, the Reggae Boyz have peaked at the right time at the Caribbean Cup.
Had Jobi McAnuff scored a clear-cut goalmouth chance in the final against the Soca Warriors, he'd have crowned a fine performance. Classy and industrious, the England-based midfielder was Jamaica's best player in the tournament. He helped in defence and attack and provided for his teammates with pinpoint passing.
Captain Rudolph Austin was businesslike throughout and both scored good penalties in the 4-3 shoot-out that gave Jamaica the Cup. There's enough credit to go around, but left back Kemar Lawrence and goalkeeper André Blake deserve special commendation.
After an extensive talent search, Jamaica's German coach, Winfried Schäfer, found what could become a winning blend. His mix of Jamaican players from the domestic leagues, England and the United States defended stoutly, passed with assurance and scored just enough to win.
The only disappointment was the second half in the semi against Antigua and Barbuda. Goals from Lawrence and the lively Darren Mattocks had put Jamaica ahead. After the interval, instead of going for a bigger winning margin, the Boyz shifted into an overly defensive posture.
That aside, the coach earned a stay of execution from those who had their daggers drawn when the team was losing. For all we know, he might have lost his job had the Caribbean Cup gone badly.
The success has given Jamaica a lift that it wouldn't have gotten with a win in a friendly encounter. Winning at the right timing is key.
An era may come when the ongoing expansion of coach training courses and better fields yield many world-class players at home. For now, Jamaica has the mix just about right.
Hubert Lawrence correctly predicted the results of 15 of the 16 knockout games in the 2014 World Cup, including the final.