Gordon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala:Another Jamaica World Cup qualifying campaign is teetering on the brink of disaster following Friday night's stunning 2-1 defeat to Guatemala here.
With that loss the Reggae Boyz are planted precariously in third position on seven points in Group A of CONCACAF's semi-final round, on the outside looking in at leaders United States and Guatemala, both with 10 points.
All three have a final group game to play on Tuesday. But only two can advance to CONCACAF's final round, where the first three in that six-team group automatically qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil and the fourth-place finisher earns a play-off for a place in football's grandest tournament.
Even if Jamaica win at 'The Office' against the group's other team, cellar dwellers Antigua and Barbuda (A&B), they will still be at the mercy of the result between US and Guatemala. The Boyz no longer control their own destiny. Jamaica's only chance to advance is to beat A&B by a large enough margin to erase their inferior goal difference and hope either host US or Guatemala lose heavily. A draw in that game will end Jamaica's campaign and mark the fourth straight World Cup the Boyz miss since their historic qualification for France 1998.
Still, Jamaica can blame no one but themselves for the current predicament. On Friday, the Boyz squandered a golden opportunity at Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores. A goalkeeping blunder by Jamaica's Dwayne Miller late in the game gifted the home side a corner. Captain Carlos Ruiz rose high in the 85th minute to head home the resulting kick. That sealed not only Guatemala's win, but placed Jamaica firmly on the back foot in the race for a top two group spot.
Ruiz's winner broke the deadlock generated by Carlos Figueroa's 16th-minute goal, which shot Guatemala into the early lead, followed by Jamaica's equaliser in the 61st minute from a Luton Shelton penalty.
Jamaica's devastation was compounded because the US survived a scare to clip A&B 2-1 with a goal in the 90th minute in a game played earlier Friday.
It appeared Jamaica were slow to grasp the importance of their task early enough. They took to the field in a hostile environment in front of a near-capacity crowd that blanked the stands wearing home white shirts. The Guatemalans roared cheers and clashed thunder sticks, showering boos on Jamaica's contingent every chance they got. Their intimidation tactics also included hurling objects at the Jamaican players. Lovel Palmer once halted his attempt to take a corner after missiles flew in his direction.
Jamaica, meanwhile, got off to a disappointing start, appearing to lack urgency as bad passes halted many of their early attempts to attack.
Yet, the Boyz created several clear-cut chances in the first half. Jermaine Hue's corner in the 11th minute was headed high by Shelton. The speedy striker wasted two more golden opportunities before the interval. A wonderful ball from Je-Vaughn Watson found him all alone with Guatemala's goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez in the penalty area. But Shelton hesitated and was robbed of the ball by a recovering defender. He also booted high from inside the box after collecting a pass from Jermaine Taylor.
Watson also missed from close range when his shot from a Ryan Johnson cross soared over the cross bar. That was the midfielder's last contribution as Jamaica's head coach Theodore Whitmore swapped him for Dane Richards in the 42nd minute.
Injuries and tactical adjustments had already forced Jamaica into several changes to the starting team that split two games with the US last month. Ailing Adrian Mariappa, Rodolph Austin and Kavin Bryan sat out and Jamaica returned to a 4-4-2 formation which beat Guatemala 2-1 at home in June to extend their unbeaten streak against the Central Americans to 13 games.
Shavar Thomas, entrusted with the captain's armband, stepped in for Mariappa for his first action of the 2014 campaign. He partnered Nyron Nosworthy in Jamaica's central defence. The unfamiliarity showed occasionally, including Guatemala's early goal, when Figueroa weaved past several defenders and chipped over the advancing Miller.
Austin was replaced by Taylor in central midfield, while Hue made his debut in the 2014 qualifiers as part of a midfield quartet. Jamaica also welcomed back Demar Phillips at left back after injury forced him to miss both US games.
Jamaica stepped up the tempo in the second stanza and found the equaliser when Richards was brought down inside the box. Mexican referee Roberto Garcia Orozco had denied Jamaica a similar call in the first half after Johnson was bundled over.
Shelton rammed home the kick, sparking Jamaica's most impressive spell. But the striker was again off target with a 68th minute header after Richards outpaced his marker and crossed.
With Richards's speed causing constant problems for Guatemala, Jamaica piled on the pressure. Omar Cummings replaced Johnson, adding more pace up front. Tramaine Stewart later came on for Hue and announced his intention immediately, firing just over the bar from distance.
But Jamaica's worst mistake came near the end. Substitute Gregory Ruiz's powerhouse left-footer slipped through the usually reliable Miller's attempt to catch, gifting Guatemala a corner. Skipper Ruiz then put a huge dent into Jamaica's World Cup hopes.
Tuesday, Oct 16, 6:15 p.m.
Jamaica vs Antigua
USA vs Guatemala