Jamaica started its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign last night with a 2-1 win over Guatemala in Group B at The Office in Kingston while Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana suffered narrow and arguably encouraging defeats.
Guyana, coached by Trinidad and Tobago’s Jamaal Shabazz, made its debut at this level at the intimidating Azteca Stadium and fell 3-1 to Mexico in Group A while Antigua and Barbuda threatened to snatch a draw away to the United States before ending with a 3-1 defeat in a Group B match at Tampa.
Cuba might have hoped for a better result at home to Canada in Group C but the 10-man North American team, coached by another Trinidad and Tobago export Stephen Hart, held out for a 1-0 win in Havana.
For Jamaica, it was business as usual at The Office in Kingston against a customary whipping boy from Central America.
The “Reggae Boyz” are unbeaten in 13 games against Guatemala and won 10 of them. Last night, Jamaica made it six successive victories as Demar Phillips scored five minutes before the interval and Ryan Johnson doubled the advantage, one minute into the second half.
Dwight Pezzarossi did take some gloss off the affair with a consolation item for Guatemala, two minutes into stoppage time.
Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana are pointless after debuts in the CONCACAF semi-final round but might have left foreign soil with more enthusiasm for the task.
The core of the “Benna Boys” squad represents the Antigua Barracudas club team in the US lower league and the occasion yesterday did not overwhelm them.
United States coach and former Germany World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann described the encounter with the tiny Caribbean nation, which was played in steady rain, as a reality check.
“It was a tricky game,” said Klinsmann. “They were difficult to break down. Antigua and Barbuda did a good job of defending. They made it difficult for us to create chances.”
The US went ahead after 11 minutes following a Landon Donovan corner kick as goalkeeper Molvin James parried a Herculez Gomez header and Carlos Bocanegra poked home from close range. And a foul on Donovan allowed Fulham star Clint Dempsey to put the hosts two goals clear from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute.
Gomez hit the bar early in the second half but substitute Peter Byers, a former San Juan Jabloteh player, gave the Americans a scare as he rounded defender Oguchi Onyewu to finish past US and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 64th minute. Byers had only been on the field for two minutes before his chance, which was fashioned by teammate Mikele Leigertwood.
The hosts did get a third through a Gomez tap-in to close the score summary.
“They should feel proud,” said Antigua and Barbuda’s English coach Tom Curtis. “They are disappointed they didn’t get closer. I’m proud of the players.
“We competed really well and gave them a scare.”
In Mexico City, Guyana predictably spent long periods chasing the game and Mexico were two goals ahead after just 15 minutes. Adventurous full back Carlos Salcido put “El Tricolor” ahead with a volley in the 11th minute and, four minutes later, Tottenham attacker Giovani Dos Santos grabbed Mexico’s second with a precise finish after a fluent exchange of passes.
Mexico and Manchester United star Javier “Chicharito” Hernández drove against the post in the 22nd minute as Guyana clung on. It was 3-0 in the 51st minute as a flick from Hernández came off the shins of Guyanese defender for an own goal.
But the “Golden Jaguars”, who prepared for yesterday’s outing with a two week training camp at altitude in Bogota, Colombia, were improved after the break.
Shabazz, who helped Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA to three trophies in the 2011/12 season, promised to give Mexico a game whenever they managed to get the ball of them and Guyana did just that.
Kayode McKinnon, a former Pro League winner with North East Stars, forced Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona into his first save with a 30-metre free kick in the 50th minute while Guyana captain Carl Cort, a former Newcastle United player, was also denied by Corona with one effort and volleyed another off the bar in the 71st minute.
Guyana’s solitary item came courtesy of Mexican defender Hector Moreno, though, who deflected into his own net in the 62nd minute after a cross from left winger Gregory Richardson, who was a former Pro League fan favourite with Joe Public.
Hart was the only Trinidadian in winner’s row yesterday, though, as Canada managed a narrow win despite conceding the majority of possession to hosts, Cuba.
“We knew what it was going to be like, whether you’re playing with 10 or playing with 11,” said Hart. “We wanted to put them under pressure by scoring early but that didn’t happen for us and the longer the game went on, of course, you know your anxiety starts to build.
“But I thought we kept our discipline and we came away with the result.”
Olivier Occean put Canada ahead in the 55th minute but they suffered a scare in the 64th minute when goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld was ejected for handling outside the penalty area. Substitute goalkeeper Milan Borjan preserved the North American team’s clean sheet while Trinidad-born midfielder Atiba Hutchinson was a second half substitute for Canada.
Jamaica travels to Antigua and Barbuda for its next World Cup qualifying assignment on Tuesday while Guyana hosts Costa Rica and Cuba jets to Panama. Hart’s Canada plays at home to Honduras on Tuesday too.
Yesterday’s World Cup results
USA 3 (Carlos Bocanegra 6, Clint Dempsey 43 pen, Herculez Gomez 71), Antigua and Barbuda 1 (Peter Byers 64) at Tampa
Jamaica 2 (Demar Phillips 40, Ryan Johnson 46), Guatemala 1 (Dwight Pezzarossi 90+2) at Kingston
Mexico 3 (Carlos Salcido 11, Giovani Dos Santos 15, John Rodrigues 51 OG), Guyana 1 (Hector Moreno 62 OG) at Mexico City
Costa Rica 2 (Alvaro Saborio 10, Joel Campbell 15), El Salvador 2 (Isidro Gutierrez 23, Osael Romero 54) at San Jose
Cuba 0, Canada 1 (Olivier Occean 55) at Havana
Honduras 0, Panama 2 (Blas Perez 65, 80) at San Pedro Sula