Brave 'Boyz' clipped by Argentina
VINA DEL MAR, Chile:
JAMAICA had a plan for Lionel Messi. It worked. The world's greatest footballer could not score a goal against them.
Despite that, Argentina created scoring opportunities aplenty in the first half, and Gonzalo Higuain scored one at the 11th minute to hand the South Americans a 1-0 victory in their Copa AmÈrica match at Sausalito Stadium here yesterday evening.
"We played against a top, top team and we've given them a run for their money. From that point of view, all credit to the players," said midfielder Joel (Jobi) McAnuff, who, for the third time, had an outstanding game for the Boyz.
The early goal and the way the Argentines had dominated the game prior and after, made them look ominous. No. 65-ranked Jamaica, though, stuck to their plan of defence against Messi and his world No. 3 team with players all in Europe's elite clubs, working hard to prevent the little maestro from damaging them with his oft-deadly dribbles or shooting.
Instead, Messi resorted to passing, which often opened the door for his teammates to create opportunities. But Jamaica's defenders were sharp and charged down many of the, Wes Brown especially. On other occasions, they were able to get a boot to ball just when it might have fallen to an opponent in front of goal.
McAnuff said they dealt with Messi well.
"I thought very well," he said about Jamaica defending the Barcelona star. "He's always going to create chances. He's sharp. He's very clever in terms of his positions that he picks up, difficult to mark, but I think, as a team, we dealt with him well. He had a few opportunities, which he's going to get. You watch Barcelona against Real Madrid and he gets those. And I think the game plan generally was good and solid and there's a lot to build on."
Higuain's goal came on a play that saw Jamaica's defence getting caught in a line. For that reason, nobody could intercept a grounded pass made by Angel di Maria from near the left touchline. The ball went to Higuain with his back to goal. The striker controlled almost centre of goal and eight yards out, turned much too easily to his right and stroked the ball wide of goalkeeper Dwayne Miller.
Jamaica continued playing cautiously as they battled hard to weather the storm. They were not about to be embarrassed.
In spite of this, they still kept an eye open for goal. On many occasions, they played behind the ball, but at other times, lone striker Deshorn Brown would lead the break on the counter.
Twice, those efforts produced corners, one of which was flicked on from near post and Wes Morgan headed over the top.
The second almost led to a goal as Argentina keeper Sergio Romero, who caught the ball at the far post, then quickly fed di Maria on the left. He outran captain Rodolph Austin and sped into the penalty box on the angle and chipped the advancing Miller. However, Kemar Lawrence kept following the play and was in position to clear the ball from the goalmouth.
Higuain almost scored again at the 22nd minute when he beat the offside trap but put too much weight on his lob over Miller, and the ball fell on top of the goalpost.
The beaten World Cup finalists would hit the bar again through the rampaging di Maria with a rasping shot at the 52nd minute that had Miller well beaten. Messi, too, had the chance to beat Miller soon after, but the keeper pulled off a smart save and thwarted the striker's chip at the open goal.
By then, the Reggae Boyz were beginning to show their personality.
The more they grew in confidence, the more they turned the tide, evoking favourable response from the Argentine crowd that filled the 21,000-odd stadium to capacity. If anything, their reaction perfectly summed up the Jamaican transition.
At first, the Argentineans got jittery, whistling as Jamaica thwarted their expectations of plenty goals.
The Reggae Boyz continued getting stronger and then had them singing "OlÈ! OlÈ! OlÈ!", with beautiful passing sequences that enabled them to run rings around Argentina and play their way into dangerous positions.
Jamaica owned the last 20 minutes, but the quality on the final pass, often crosses from the flanks, never matched the build-ups, and Argentina's defence were able to scramble the ball away from goal.