Boyz break US jinx with 2-1 World Cup Qualifying win • Austin, Shelton the goal-scoring heroes
In the year when the nation celebrates its 50th Independence anniversary, like the great Olympians, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, after boldly promising victory, duly delivered on a first-ever senior football victory over the mighty Americans with a well-deserved come-from-behind 2-1 victory in front of a near capacity crowd at the National Stadium last night.
Ace striker Clint Dempsey, who only recently engineered a transfer move away from Fulham to Tottenham Hotspur, put the United States ahead after 37 seconds to silence the massive home crowd.
But coach Theodore Whitmore’s side grew in confidence and pulled level when Rodolph Austin, who signed for Leeds United in the English Championships, powered home a rasping free-kick on 23 minutes and then skipper Luton Shelton put the icing on the cake with an even more brilliant free kick in the 62nd minute to bring the mighty USA and its German coach Jurgen Klinsmann to their knees.
The result left Jamaica atop the Group A CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying play-offs at press time with seven points, three ahead of their USA rivals. In the other game in the group, Antigua and Barbuda were leading Guatemala 1-0 in the latter’s capital at press time.
Jamaica and the USA will renew rivalry in the return-round next Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio. At the end of this semi-final phase, the top two teams from each of the three groups will advance to the final round with the top-three advancing automatically to the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals, with the fourth-placed team going into a play-off with the fifth-placed team from the South American COBMEBOL region.
The victory marks the first in 21 outings between the two countries, including two Olympic Games Qualifiers in 1972. The USA enjoy 11 victories and nine matches have been drawn.
Jamaica Football Federation president Captain Horace Burrell could not have asked for more, a win in front of a packed ‘Office’.
Mexican referee Mario Antonio Rodriques Moreno had barely signalled the start of the game when Maurice Edu picked out Herculez Gomez with a delicious through pass. The burly striker outmuscled Adrian Mariappa inside the penalty area before playing inside for Dempsey to slot home from six yards.
Austin, who was employed in a more advanced role in midfield, tested Everton’s goalkeeper Tim Howard with a rasping long-range effort which soared just over the top.
The hard-working midfielder drove forward into the heart of the American defence yet again but was pulled down by Kyle Beckerman. He picked himself up, dusted himself off before driving home a grounded shot which beat the sprawling Howard to spark wild celebration inside the National Stadium.
However, the home side dodged a bullet on the stroke of half-time when Dempsey, left unmarked from the same spot in which he scored, was denied by the outstretched arms of Dwayne Miller, much to the relief of the home crowd.
The Boyz appeared more positive in the second half and Lovell Palmer asked Howard a serious question with a long-range effort, but the Everton ‘`keeper proved equal to the task, parrying over the horizontal for a corner.
Then came that historic moment just after the hour mark. Austin had proven dangerous all night, but yet the Americans never learnt, as the wily midfielder was cynically blocked from about 25 yards out. With himself and Shelton standing over the ball, Howard must have been fooled thinking Shelton would try to sell him a dummy, instead the striker curled a beautiful free-kick into the net, well out of the reach of the flailing hands of the goalkeeping captain.
From then on it was just a matter of trying to stay in front, and the Reggae Boyz did it superbly, moving the ball around and defending stoutly when needed, even in the three minutes of time added as the Americans threw everything into attack.
But destiny was ordained and when the final whistle came, spectators and the Reggae Boyz bench celebrated as if they had just booked a ticket to the 2014 Brazil World Cup Finals. That might just be a premonition.