Andre Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
It was a nervous start for Theodore Whitmore's team, but in the end, goals in either half from Demar Phillips and Ryan Johnson helped Jamaica to a dominating 2-1 win over Guatemala in their FIFA World Cup qualifier inside the National Stadium on Friday evening.
Duly outplayed, the visitors were flattered with a 90th minute consolation goal from second half substitute Dwight Pezzarossi, but for the Jamaicans the result was well-deserved and never in doubt.
It turned out to be a pretty good showing by the Jamaicans, but it didn't always seem to be heading in that direction as both teams struggled to make an early mark on the game as the visitors came hunting their first win over Jamaica in their 12 previous encounters. Jamaica has now won 10 of their 13 games against Guatemala.
Coming off a pair of discouraging losses at the hands of Panama, confidence seemed a scarce commodity as the hosts had another slow start in front of an unconvinced home crowd.
In a dull first half that saw the game's first shot coming after some 24 minutes had gone on referee Roberto Moreno Salazar's watch - an aimless 25 yard effort by Jamaican midfielder Rudolph Austin, the host had more of the ball, but did precious little with it in the final third.
Reggae Boyz captain Luton Shelton had a good game, but he should have given the locals the lead after 11 minutes. The tricky striker muscled his way through three Guatemalan defenders but could not get the ball from under his foot at the crucial moment as he entered the penalty box.
The Jamaicans suffered a setback a few minutes later as goalkeeper and captain Donovan Ricketts, who barely had anything to do up to that point had to help himself on a stretcher after picking up an injury off the ball and had to be replaced by Dwayne Miller in the 17th minute. Miller's first duty was to punch clear an inswinging Guatemala corner, as the Central Americans looked to silence a disappointingly small (15,000 estimated) crowd inside the 'Office'.
Shelton again found himself in a good position, this time in the 28th minute when he led a three on two counter attack against the Guatemala defence. His final pass to Dane Richards was however, too soft and was easily dealt with by the retreating backline.
Richards came close to breaking the deadlock minutes later after he received a pass at the top of the box from Shelton, who with his back to the goal, did well to hold off his marker and find his teammate, whose shot went inches over the crossbar.
The Jamaican continued to chip away at their visitors; Jevaughn Watson failing to make meaningful contact to a teasing freekick to the backpost from Phillips as the Jamaicans started to turn the screws as the game progressed.
Phillips however, took matters in his own hands on 41 minutes, unleashing a tricky left footed shot that bounced awkwardly in front of goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez before lodging in the back of the net to give Jamaica a deserved lead going into the interval.
If the hosts were nervous for the start, it was an entirely different story for the second half as rampant-looking Reggae Boyz team walked out of the locker rooms, unto the field and within seconds, were again on the score sheet.
Barely a minute into the second period, Johnson found himself with the ball at his foot and the goalkeeper at his mercy. The Toronto FC man made no mistake, keeping his composure to slot home from the top of the six-yard box and double the hosts advantage.
It was a fitting end to a sublime move that started with Shelton and Watson.
Austin rattled the crossbar after 58 minutes with a fierce 30 yard pile driver and a minute later it was still shaking as an increasingly confident Jamaican outfit set up camp in the Guatemala half.
The midfielder's bad luck streak continued two minutes later as his 22 yard freekick again left the goalkeeper thanking his crossbar; the visitors were under siege as the Jamaicans went feverishly in search of a third goal.
It was video game, showtime stuff a few minutes later, as Shelton and Johnson combined in champagne flair before the former dissected the visitors' defence with a pass that found Richards ghosting behind the lines.
However, Richards' shot lacked power and was easily scooped up by a relieved Jerez.
The Jamaicans continued their assault on the Guatemalan team as Shelton forced a save out of Jerez before Austin left him sprawling to his left to deny yet another long-range effort.
Pezzarossi was first on the scene after a Guatemala freekick rebound but it was little too late for the Central Americans.
Jamaica will next play away to Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday.