Well done Reggae Boyz!
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sports
FORT DE FRANCE, Martinique:
JAMAICA went perfect from the spot in a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out decider, to win the Digicel Caribbean Cup final last night, beating Guadeloupe 5-4 at the Stade Pierre Aliker.
Victory enabled the Jamaicans to defend their title successfully, while securing their fifth lien on the regional crown.
Additionally, it made Theodore Whitmore, the head coach, the first to win the title as a player and coach, following the midfield maestro's pivotal role in the Reggae Boyz's 1998 success.
Only Trinidad and Tobago, with eight titles, have won more times than Jamaica.
Two other teams have ever been crowned Caribbean Champions, Martinique and Haiti, which both won once.
The teams battled fiercely to a 1-1 scoreline through full regulation time and 30 minutes of extra-time.
Omar Cummings gave Jamaica the lead with a goal at the 32nd minute, while Ludovic Gotin equalising for Guadeloupe at the 37th.
The Jamaicans stand to gain from the US$120,000 first place cash prize, which they earned along with the Digicel Caribbean Cup and gold medals.
Guadeloupe got the runners-up US$70,000 and medals.
Jamaica started the match in cagey fashion, giving up space to Guadeloupe when they never had possession, and looking to launch their attacks with long balls.
This pattern ensued for the first 10 minutes and Guadeloupe, with a much bigger team, outmuscled the Jamaicans to win the ball many times. Additionally, they played with more confidence and made several dangerous-looking forays that ended with squares across the Jamaica goal.
It was not until the 12th minute that the Reggae Boyz made their first offensive move with grounded passes and they nearly capitalised, when Rodolph Austin burst away from the defence, only to push the ball too far, allowing a defender to deny him the shooting chance as he entered the penalty box.
Two minutes later, they went close to scoring when a Luton Shelton corner kick to the far post was deflected behind, after Shavar Thomas put a header on goal.
Still Guadeloupe, with their dreadlocked captain Stephane Auvray marshalling their plays from the middle, continued to press the nervous-looking Jamaican team, thus forcing errors and preventing them from settling into a smooth rhythm.
Central midfielders Richard Edwards, in particular and Austin, tried to develop a passing flow but it never really materialised before 20 minutes had elapsed.
In fact, Jamaica never took their first shot at goal until the 25th minute - a 40-yard from the latter that sailed over the goal.
With Eric Vernan providing good support with his pace and positive movement down the right, they started combining better from that period and exhibited greater control on their play, to the point where they combined smoothly to create a chance for Dane Richards at the 28th minute, which was deflected from seven yards over the goal.
By then, Jamaica had begun to package their play into formulating dominance, as they stepped up their control over the game.
In one moment when they gave up the ball, Austin won it back instantly and engineered a counter. He broke down the right, crossed to the back post for Shelton, who headed back inside. With his back to goal, Cummings turned and hooked a shot powerfully into the roof of goal to hand Jamaica the lead at the 33rd minute.
But just as they had done in the semi-final against Grenada, they lapsed after scoring and gave up an equaliser, allowing Ludovic Gotin to run free to a lofted ball and blast past Miller at the 37th minute.
Still, Jamaica would regain their footing to create another scoring chance on a combination play, but Vernan shot across goal on the stroke of half-time.
The Reggae Boyz made a blazing start to the second half and could have netted twice within the first five minutes, when Richards fired over the goal from a tight angle and Cummings, hustling for the ball, hooked his shot over the top also.
Throughout the remainder of the half, which saw Guadeloupe adapting a counter-attacking style, the Jamaicans largely dictated the play, even as both teams went close to scoring.
In extra-time, Jamaica went the closest to scoring but AustinÕs drive from just outside the box was well saved by Yohann Bus, diving to his left to prevent a goal at the 100th minute.
In the opening match to decide the third place finisher, Roberto Balmaseda scored for Cuba in the 12th minute to seal a 1-0 victory over Grenada.
Cuba had greater possession and control of play and deserved the win in the match-up among Group H's number one and two teams, respectively, as they created more scoring chances and really should have won by a much wider margin.
The Cubans earned US$50,000 and medals for the finish, while Grenada got US$30,000 for placing fourth.
All four teams in last night's final play-off advanced to next year's Gold Cup, CONCACAF's 12-nation flagship tournament, which will be staged across the United States.