ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Antigua & Barbuda’s Benna Boys, novices at the top level of world football, and the seasoned Reggae Boyz of Jamaica played to a scrappy goalless draw after 90 minutes of regulation plus three minutes of extra time.
Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds, named in honour of the legendary West Indies batsman, played host to the game during match day 2 of CONCACAF’s Group A semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying competition.
With the stands almost packed to the rafters in a sea of gold, the colours of the home team, Jamaica had to soak up a lot of pressure from the Benna Boys who started the game very aggressively.
During the first fifteen minutes, wave after wave were repelled by the Reggae Boyz’ defense as Antigua & Barbuda pressed forward.
Antigua & Barbuda were continuously dispossessed in the final attacking third as a combination of injudicious plays by their forwards and stellar defense by Jamaica saw the Reggae Boyz’ defense holding firm.
One of Antigua & Barbuda’s best chances came in the 23rd minute when the ball was placed at the feet of striker Peter “Big Pete” Byers, who missed a sitter directly in front of goal. With just goalkeeper Dwayne Miller to beat, the prolific scorer tapped the ball gently into the waiting arms of a grateful Jamaican custodian.
Jamaica in the 40th minute of play saw a beautifully floated cross from Jevaughn Watson against the run of play which forced a diving save from Antigua & Barbuda’s custodian Molvin James.
In the 43rd minute, the Benna strikers, on a counterattack, made it to the top of the area when yet again poor finishing saw Kieran Murtagh hit a weak shot that was easily collected by Miller.
Jamaica’s first touches in the first half were excellent. Their movement off the ball was superb, so Jamaica even though they were certainly not dominant in the first half, showed some quality.
With Antigua & Barbuda enjoying most of the ball possession, the Reggae Boyz were fortunate to go into the half without conceding a goal.
Despite having a dominant first half, Benna Boys started the second period with the same formation with just one man forward.
However, Jamaica came out pushing more men forward and started brightly, immediately putting the Benna defense under pressure.
But Jamaica suffered a scare in the 55th minute when Byers broke free from a sea of green and sent a pass across the Jamaica goal.
A sliding save by Demar Phillips almost resulted in an own-goal as the ball soared just over the crossbar and Jamaica lived to fight another day.
Against the run of play in the 61st minute, Antigua & Barbuda missed another sitter. Tamarley “Ziggy” Thomas beat three defenders along the left flank and hit a lateral cross, which miraculously eluted the onrushing Randolph “Etty” Burton, who was alone in the six yard box.
On the ensuing possession, Jamaica came to within a whisker of scoring when Watson, after beating his defender hit hard at the Antigua & Barbuda goal only to see the ball crash into the upright.
In the 72nd minute, Jamaica, after a good buildup, saw a cross from Watson cut out by Benna Boys skipper and defender George “Sowa” Dublin.
On the ensuing possession, it was Byers who once again beat his defender and pulled the trigger only to see his shot whizz just inches wide of the goal.
The final chance for Antigua & Barbuda came in the final minute of extra time when substitute striker Stephan Smith sent a free kick sailing over the crossbar.
That was the final act of aggression in the game. Antigua & Barbuda would have been very disappointed to have only come away with a solitary point after a host of missed chances.
On the other hand, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, under pressure all game, were fortunate to salvage a point, although coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore would not be pleased with drawing a game that many thought they should have easily won.