Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sports
PANAMA CITY, Panama:
The light shining into the room is getting dimmer for Jamaica's Reggae Boyz. Three points from seven matches is not the tally they totalled coming out of Friday night's World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) football contest against Panama at the Rommel Fernendez Stadium in Panama City.
The 0-0 draw - as acceptable as it turned out to be under the circumstances of playing the final half hour a man down - was off the cards.
Even as the door angled closer to its latch in the CONCACAF Finals WCQ, the Reggae Boyz are not giving up on their chances of advancing to Brazil 2014.
"We have to win. Now we have to win all matches," was head coach Winfried Schäfer's matter-of-fact response following the match.
"We have no choice. We're five points behind Mexico," he surmised as he looked at the points difference between Jamaica and fourth-place Mexico.
The top three advance after all have played their 10 matches. The fourth-place team will tackle Oceania champions New Zealand in a home-and-away tie to determine a spot.
Costa Rica lead the race after toppling the United States 3-1 to earn their 14th point, one ahead of the Americans. All have played seven matches. Honduras rallied to stun Mexico 2-1 at the Azteca to go third on 10 points, while Mexico remained on eight points, one ahead of fifth-place Panama.
The latter would be thinking they made a big chance slip Friday night, especially after claiming a man-advantage when Jamaican midfielder Rodolph Austin picked up his second yellow card - immediately translated to red - at the 57th minute.
In a competitive match up to then, Panama almost doubled possession and forced a flurry of dangerous activity around Jamaica's goal, but could not score against some brave and determined defending.
"I think our team gave 100 per cent," Schäfer said. "Our team played the last 30 minutes with 10 players and everybody played with heart for Jamaica. I think with 10 players, the draw is ok, but it was not easy for Jamaica's Reggae Boyz. The referee ... made many mistakes against Jamaica. The yellow, red card was not correct. I think Austin ... this player from Panama is going with two legs, one moment later, I think Austin has broken his leg and he gets the yellow card."
Following his recent appointment, Friday's encounter was Schäfer's first in charge of the team. He had only three training sessions prior, but utilised videos, met with the overseas-based players in Britain and the United States, and held open discussions with players and coaches to learn his team.
Jamaica's starting team against Panama included eight changes from the previous game, with recalled strikers Marlon King and Luton Shelton, and debutants Westley Morgan and Shaun Cummings among the lot.
The sure-footed play of Leicester City's Morgan was inspiring, as he authoritatively anchored a defence barricading the new 3-5-2 formation that Schäfer admitted employing on the evidence of the success it yielded in previous matches.
"I think when you saw our defence today (Friday), Doyley (Lloyd), Wes Morgan fantastic, and Taylor, all three players very, very good," said Schäfer.
Their play largely contributed to a shut-out of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts' momentous occasion of earning his 100th Jamaica cap, by being properly positioned to block attempts or win balls cleanly around the goal area.
Ricketts ended up making two saves.
The Jamaicans were also organised well defensively in midfield and kept their shape to force Panama wide on most occasions. Austin was actually having a monster match, covering virtually every blade of grass and holding the team together, until untimely challenges led to his demise.
Strangely, the link-up play with the forwards and midfielders got better towards the latter third of the match with Jamaica having lesser numbers, but the team left its striking boots.
"We had two shots in the first half ...," lamented Schäfer. "Only one shot from McAnuff and that's not enough. I told my players to shoot, shoot, shoot."
Strike partners Shelton and King were expected to add much to ease the team's attacking woes, as proven scorers for Jamaica. Shelton had netted 35 goals in 73 previous matches, and King 12 in 23. Shelton was more dangerous running at defenders while King, who hasn't played competitively since March, was sluggish, lacked cutting edge and lost many balls, thus ending up being ineffective until his belated substitution
It was one of several good changes made by Schäfer, though those involving Alvas Powell and Austin were forced. O'Brian Woodbine came in for the injured Powell three minutes before half-time, and was himself shifted to the other side of defence.
Explaining the reason for the shift, the Jamaica coach said: "The problem is Woodbine was not sure, not enough confidence on right side. Two times he lost the ball to number nine, number four, very good players ... ."
He added: "The anticipation was not good, he made many mistakes for the organisation (team), he was too much inside and gives (allows) the player on the right side (to) make many, many crosses against us."
Marvin Elliott was swapped with King at the 62nd minute to keep a natural central striker in the middle of the pitch.
Now Schäfer and his team must ponder again over team selection for the next match, on Tuesday against the leaders at the National Stadium.
"Now we have tomorrow," he said. "The players who played 90 minutes have rest, massage, jacuzzi, and after tomorrow small training.
"I have to watch the video of Costa Rica match against Jamaica and the USA. We want to, against Costa Rica, not only 11 players, we need our supporters, our supporters need to be the 12th man.
"Mexico play the United States, we're at home. Maybe at the 10th of September we have only two points, the distance between us and Mexico, I hope," said Schäfer, pointing to a scenario that could increase the light coming through the door, depending on the outcome of other matches.
For his Reggae Boyz though, there is no option."We have to win all three matches now," he said.
P W D L GF GA GD Pts
1. Costa Rica 7 4 2 1 10 4 6 14
2. United States 7 4 1 2 8 6 2 13
3. Honduras 7 3 1 3 8 8 0 10
4. Mexico 7 1 5 1 4 4 0 8
5. Panama 7 1 4 2 5 7 -2 7
6. Jamaica 7 0 3 4 2 8 -6 3