By Paul Nicholson in Cincinnati
July 9 – Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz made hard work of squeezing past Guatemala 1-0 at the TQL Stadium in Cincinnati for a place in the semi-finals of the Gold Cup.
Jamaica will leave wondering how this became such hard world considering the opportunities they had, but relieved they didn’t throw the win away in the fashion of their opening game against the US where a procession of missed chances and a missed penalty opened the door for the US to equalise off a defensive error.
Jamaica are progressing in their own relaxed way.
Against Guatemala they were up against a brilliantly organised team under Luis Tena that had the confidence and ability to draw in a sparklingly talented Jamaican attack, and wait for their own opportunities. Two year ago Guatemala failed to make it through the preliminary qualifiers but were recalled to the group stages when Curacao’s squad tested positive for covid. This version of Guatemala is one of a rapidly improving and confident team that has more to come.
Jamaica come into the Gold Cup on a mission. They have twice made the Gold Cup final in 2015 and 2017. In 2015 they beat the US to get there, and in 2017 they beat Mexico. In 2021 they lost in the quarter finals to the USA but this time out they have recruited well adding proven Premier League talent.
But with a first half that ended 0-0, the question was whether Jamaica would regret not having turned their dominance of possession and attacking threat into goals. They had created the chances but hadn’t really come close enough to challenge the Guatemalan goals.
Michail Antonio started with physical intent – perhaps trying too hard. Turning his defender on three minutes, he shrugged off challenges as he drove into the box but couldn’t find a finish to match the intent.
If Guatemala were to find their own breakthrough early on it was going to be via a breakaway or a defensive error. On 7 minutes Jamaica’s Damion Lowe was dispossessed on the right allowing Real Salt Lake striker Rubio Mendez a run at Andre Blake in Jamaica’s goal. The imperious Blake was more than equal to Mendez’s strike.
With a referee allowing physical challenges, Jamaica were going down a bit too easily in the box to win a penalty. Outside of the box Guatemala were happy to give fouls away wide to blunt the threat of Jamaica’s all-Premier League attack.
On 17 minutes Booby Reid should have made more of a shot from the edge of the box. Reid was a constant threat and a defensive lynchpin with his covering all game.
Leon Bailey, playing centrally, looked more dangerous when he came to the right and on 26 minutes delivered a tantalising ball across the box that was turned out for a corner.
Guatemala dealt with the corner and the ball back into the box that was turned out for yet another corner. Jamaica could not find that final ball to unlock a tightly packed Guatemalan defence.
Jamaica pressed but not even Demari Gray with his silky passing and movement could get his shooting to trouble the Guatemalan goal. Antonio and Reid both had shots blocked before Antonio again shot wide.
The half ended with Guatemala gently starting to apply pressure of their own.
The start of the second half put that Guatemalan pressure on hold. In the 50th minute Jamaica attacking down the left side saw Gray feed an overlapping Amari’i Bell on the inside who coolly fired past Nicholas Hagen in Guatemala’s goal.
Guatemala responded with counter attacks of their own but could not find a real test for Blake.
Jamaica started to dominate. On 65 minutes Jamaica threaded the ball to Leon Bailey with only Hagen to beat but only managing to his legs. A minute later Bailey and Antonio stumbled over each other two yards from goal only for the ball to agonisingly dribble out of their reach.
On 68 minutes Gray worked space on the right but ballooned his shot over the bar.
72 minutes the ever-busy Joel Latibeaudaire was brought down on the edge of the box, Gray again fired over from the free kick. Four minutes later it was Bailey’s turn to fire one over the top from a free kick
With Jamaica wasting chances the danger was always that they could let Guatemala back into the game and in the 80th minute the Central Americans almost equalised. A cross found Mendez unmarked in the box but his header was athletically saved by Blake diving to his left.
Three minutes later a Guatemala free kick into the box found the free head of Jose Pinto but again Blake gathered low on the ground.
A tense final 10 minutes and four of added time saw both Jamaica and Guatemala miss opportunities but it was Jamaica, the only Caribbean team in the last eight, moved into the semi-final and a date with Mexico in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.
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