'We showed character'... but head coach warns of cuts
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina:
Players who fail to make the grade will soon find themselves omitted from the Class of 2014 being moulded by Jamaica's senior football staff for the World Cup qualifying campaign geared towards Rio de Janeiro.
Such sentiments were expressed by head coach Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore in reaction to queries about the failure of substitutes to ignite his team in their friendly international against Argentina here on Wednesday night, when the team plummeted to a disappointing finish.
"Regardless of what the result was, we are on a rebuilding process and these games are used as a measuring stick, so at some point in time we're going to have our cut-off point where we are going to say we don't think we can continue with him anymore," Whitmore noted, while fielding a query concerning whether the Jamaicans should have gone for the grand and historic win that beckoned, rather than providing the opportunity for international practices, for which the game was designed.
Looking to the future
Continuing, Whitmore said: "So, regardless of what the score was tonight, we were trying to inject as many players into the game to see how they handled the kind of pressure when we play against these teams and to compete at this stage. We have a squad of 18, we tried to give everybody a game. When the players went in they were trying to catch up, while the Argentineans were chasing, so it was a bit difficult. But it gave us a platform where we can work and see brighter ahead for the future of Jamaica's football."
The Jamaicans, who qualified for the World Cup Finals once in 1998 and have a global ranking of 78, led the powerful South Americans 1-0 up to the 86th minute.
However, they flopped to lose2-1 before an appreciative crowd of near 35,000, that had packed the Jose Marilla Minella Stadium. Point forward Ryan Johnson scored a well directed header from the edge of the 18-yard box - off a deep cross from Lovel Palmer, to give Jamaica the lead at the 68th minute.
"Ryan gave us an excellent performance," noted Whitmore. "You could see the work and he deserved the goal. You can see that he's a team player."
Martin Palermo equalised for the home team four minutes from time, heading a low cross from the edge of the penalty box past goalkeeper, Dwayne Miller.
Substitute Ignacio Canuto then scored the game-winner in the last seconds of the four minutes added for stoppages.
Argentina established clear dominance throughout as they probed continuously and were more dangerous before goal. They hit the outside of the goalpost once with a free kick in the second half, when Miller was also forced to dive and make two fine saves - one from Federico Insua's shot from inside the box and the other off a free kick that he lifted over the bar.
Captain Shavar Thomas also made a save off the goalline. All of those goal threats came in the second half.
Otherwise, the Argentineans challenged the Jamaican defence with a lot of crosses, most of which were generally dealt with efficiently by the central trio of captain Shavar Thomas, Jermaine Taylor and Adrian Reid, especially in the first half when the homesters could not create a clear shooting chance.
The latter factor was largely due to the tactical discipline displayed by Jamaica while defending, as they held their position, tracked and marked well.
This closed the spaces in the middle of the field in the final third and forced the home team into opting to drill long balls into the goal area on most occasions.
The Jamaicans were, however, looking to counter whenever the opportunity and though they did so in disjointed fashion on many occasions, they maintained a constant threat, mainly through Johnson, who fought off the defence to hold up the ball while bringing the team into the game, and making simple passes.
The striker has pace and used it to good effect to get away from the defenders and made an opening for himself in the second half, until his last touch went a bit too far and a defender was able to slide and nudge the ball into his goalkeeper's hand.
Otherwise, Jamaica had a fairly decent opening in the first half. However, Keammar Daley, who settled down nicely as the game lengthened, opted for the spectacular and missed an attempt at an overhead 'bicycle' kick.
Despite that miss and the fact that some of the players were not composed, and squandered possession often by kicking away the ball when they had decent passing options, as they came under pressure, the team grew in stature during the last half hour of the first half and were playing quite strongly in the second, until a flurry of substitutions that was followed by the team's play plunging rapidly into decline.
The first was forced because of an injury to Navion Boyd, marking the removal of basically the entire offensive team with Johnson, Omar Cummings and Daley following shortly.
"Ryan was tired, Cummings got tired, then we lost Boysie (Boyd) so we tried to put fresher legs out there," Whitmore pointed out.
The substitution that probably hurt the team the most was the replacement of Lovel Palmer at the right-flank defensive position with central defender Demar Stewart. The latter, who lacks pace, was caught out as the home team carved a freeway into Jamaica's defence.
"They were a lot of crosses and we decided to put him in where he is strong, in the air," explained Whitmore. "He would have played a more defensive role and gave Keammar and Boysie more freedom, but then we lost Boysie and we had to change the shape of the team again.
Additionally, the usually sound goalie, Miller, was off timing and missed almost all the time he went for crosses. It proved detrimental on the winning goal, when he was left swatting at air twice in quick succession, and the ball spilled at the goalmouth, triggering a melee from which Canuto scrambled home the match-winning goal.
"To be leading Argentina 1-0 up to the 85th minute and to come back and lose, I'm somewhat disappointed," said Whitmore.
"But, overall, I'm very pleased with the performance of the team. We showed character and the attitude tonight was spot on."