Jamaica, the most experienced English-speaking Caribbean team of the three competing in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, lived up to its billing.
After two games, the Reggae Boyz garnered a win and a draw for four points to share the top spot in Group A with the U.S. Among the other two Caribbean teams, Antigua and Barbuda managed its first points in its first appearance in a CONCACAF semifinal round, while Guyana failed in its attempt to make an impact.
After beating Guatemala 2-1 at home in the first game on Friday, June 8, Jamaica travelled to Antigua and Barbuda four days later and had to fight tooth and nail to get a draw. The match, by all reports, gave the home team the upper-hand, and considered Jamaica lucky to come away with a point.
The Antiguans were buoyed not only by the home field advantage, but also because of the team’s good showing in a 3-1 loss to the USA in the first match. The goalless draw gave Antigua and Barbuda the point that keeps its hopes alive in Group A, where it now sits in a third-place tie with Guatemala, which tied the U.S during the second day of games on Tuesday, June 12. Pete Byers, who scored the only goal for Antigua against the U.S., came close to scoring on two occasions against Jamaica.
The Reggae Boyz, in their win over Guatemala, got goals from Demar Phillips and Ryan Johnson; it was Jamaica’s 10th win in 13 games against Guatemala. Dwight Pezzarossi scored late in the contest for the visitors.
The U.S. failed to hold onto a 1-0 lead late in its second game, at Guatemala and have only four points after two games. Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the 41st minute off a pass from left full back Fabian Johnson, but it was Johnson who fouled Guatemala’s Carlos Ruiz in the 83rd minute to give Marco Papa the goal from a free kick just outside the penalty area for the 1-1 draw. The U.S. had defeated Antigua and Barbuda on goals by Captain Carlos Bocanega, Clint Dempsey and Hercules Gomez at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.
In Group B, Mexico in command with the full six points from two wins when it squeaked past hosts El Salvador, 2-1, in the team’s second on Tuesday. Held goalless in the first half, Mexico scored in the 60th minute through Jesus Eduardo Zavala, who took a through pass and beat El Salvador goal keeper Benji Villalobos. Les than five minutes later, Alfredo Pacheco scored a free kick, but Hector Moreno got the winner for Mexico in the 82nd minute.
Mexico beat Guyana, 3-1, in the first game, but it was a tough battle for the Mexicans at home against Guyana. Carlos Salcido, Giovanni Dos Santos and John Rodriguez scored for Mexico. Guyana also lost to Costa Rica, 4-0, at home on Tuesday and is without a point at the bottom of Group B; Costa Rica is in second with four points and El Salvador in third on one point.
Costa Rica got a hat trick from striker Alvaro Saborio and a fourth goal from teenager Joel Campbell to bounce back from its 2-2 home tie against El Salvador in the first match. Saborio is one of four MLS players who scored during the qualifiers; the others were Blaz Perez for Panama, Johnson of Jamaica and Papa of the Chicago Fire.
Panama Wins Two
Panama is an emerging CONCACAF power and the evidence is in its perfect record so far with wins at Honduras and at home Tuesday versus Cuba. The Canaleros is atop Group C with maximum six points. Nelson Barahona scored the only game of the match in the 58th minute as the Canaleros blanked Cuba, which suffered its second lost. Panama in its first game, upset Honduras, 2-0; Cuba previously lost to Canada.
Coming off that 1-0 road win at Cuba, and considering that Honduras’s lost, much more was expected of Canada at home against the Hondurans in the team’s second game, instead, the game was a stalemate goalless draw. The Canadians are in second place with four points in Group C, Honduras is in third with a point and Cuba is without a point at the bottom. The top two teams in each of the three groups will advance to the final stage, which begins early next year.