KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz served up a much-improved performance by slamming Aruba 6-0 in their CONCACAF Nations League Group C return-round encounter at Stadion Ergilio Hato in Curacao on Tuesday night.
That result followed an unconvincing 2-0 win by the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at their home base at Kingston’s National Stadium three days earlier over a nation ranked closer to 200 on FIFA Coca-Cola list.
Despite taking an early 13th-minute lead on a strike from Devon Williams, his first for Jamaica, the Boyz struggled to break down a solid and disciplined Aruban outfit which relied solely on counter-attacks.
Shamar Nicholson missed a chance to add to the lead on 77 minutes when he blasted a penalty kick wildly over the crossbar, but he made amends two minutes from full time when he made the game safe with a cute finish.
Aruban captain and goalkeeper Eric Abdul had promised much of the same for the return game, being played in Curacao instead of Aruba, as their home field was not approved by FIFA.
According to Abdul, Aruba was the underdog and it was their plan to make the game as difficult as possible for the more established Jamaican team, so they weren’t going to play an open attacking game and make it easy for the better team.
But Jamaica’s head coach Theodore Whitmore had other ideas and he employed a more attacking formation, employing a 4-1-4-1 system instead of the 4-2-3-1 he used on Saturday. In essence, what he did was to withdraw one of his two defensive midfielders for a more attacking midfielder to guarantee more numbers in Aruba’s final third of the field.
Whitmore also tested the depth of his squad by making six changes to the starting team, and he was vindicated with a more fluent display which resulted in goals and much-needed confidence boost for a number of players, as four of them—Chavany Willis, Maalique Foster, schoolboy Lamar Walker, and Junior Flemmings—scored their maiden goals for Jamaica.
In fact, Foster had a double to add to another by Nicholson. Jamaica led 4-0 at the half-time break and added two within eight minutes of the restart.
The result left Jamaica firmly on top of the group of four teams with maximum 12 points, with 18 unanswered goals, followed by Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda with six points, and Aruba rooted at the foot of the table without a point. All teams have played four games.
Jamaica needs just one point to guarantee top spot from the remaining two games, and automatic qualification to the next CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament.
The Jamaicans have also further cemented their place in the top six of CONCACAF ranking, which would secure them a place in the hexagonal of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, a significant boost to their chances for the 2022 Qatar World Cup Finals.
So when all is said and done, Whitmore and his technical staff are making progress with this Reggae Boyz squad, and they are doing it without a lot of fanfare.
Whitmore is fully aware of the necessity to have a team with flexibility where different combinations can be employed, and so he thought Tuesday’s contest was as good as any to experiment and it paid off in the end with both the performance and the result.
Substitute goalkeeper Amal Knight was given a chance between the sticks and though never tested often, was alert when he needed to be, while the top five attacking players played together for the first time and the level of chemistry displayed was admirable.
It was also refreshing to see the introduction of Clarendon College schoolboy star Lamar Walker in only his second game, dictating proceedings from midfield.
The little player was energetic, thoughtful, cheeky, and confident, and his teammates gifted him with the ball whenever he presented himself, which was often.
And the fact that he notched a decent goal, bursting forward on a counter-attack and displaying the composure of a seasoned player to glide past the advancing Abdul in goal before slotting into an empty net, speaks volumes for his potential for what lays ahead if he is able to keep grounded and properly counseled.
But experience has taught us that as a people we always find a way to disrupt a good thing, and it is the hope that the players and the local governing body, the Jamaica Football Federation, will continue to enjoy a good relationship. Whitmore has done a good job trying his best to keep the players focused on the field—while being as accommodating as possible with the “off the field” issues, as they keep their eyes on the big picture of World Cup qualification.