Friday, 08 June 2012 23:53
By Colin James
Antigua St John's - Antigua and Barbuda made a statement not because they lost. But they said to the world they will be no easy-pushover.
The Benna Boys conceded two first-half goals against mounting US raids but they took firm through before scoring to partially silence the home crowd at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fl.
However, the mighty Americans, who were thwarted on countless occasions by the hands, body and feet of Molvin James, nicked a crucial third goal to come deserved winners.
Cheered by a boisterous and confident legion of supporters from home and countrymen and women living on the US mainland who braved the almost non-stop rain, Tom Curtis’ charges put their bodies, hearts and soul into almost everything the Jurgen Klinsmann players threw at them.
They were wingers chasing back to help full-backs; a midfield trio disciplined to break-up the American attack, a back-four robust and strong, and Molvin James, who like Peter Byers, playing the unusual role of coming off the bench to score, to etch their names on the American public.
This CONCACAF semi-final round opening encounter was billed as David vs. Goliath and the way the game started you sensed it was going just that.
But the Benna Boys grew in confidence after conceding an eight-minute goal slotted home by the unmarked American captain Carlos Bocanegra to stem the pending tide on a wet, cold and damp evening.
James did well to save the initially attempt from a corner but the ball fell invitingly to Bocanegra to push home from close range.
It that was meant to stun the Benna Boys it did the reserve. It woke them up out of their evening nap after the scheduled 7pm-kick-off was delayed by 27 minutes because of the conditions.
However, the Americans buoyed by their early lead and their partisan support were as incessant and they were creating chances but the tackles and bodies of the Antiguan players blocked their path to another quick goal.
Corner after corner rained in; Jermaine Jones volleyed over from the edge of the area with the goal gapping; Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley had shots blocked while winger Tamorley Thomas, usually expected to be creating in the opponents’ box and right-back Marvin McCoy, were defending as if their lives depended on it.
But a minute before half-time the Antiguans defence was breached for the second as McCoy needlessly and rashly hauled Landon Donovan who along with Dempsey and Hercules Gomez were causing all sorts of problems up front with their pace, movement and skills on the right-hand edged of the penalty area.
Dempsey, the Fulham striker in the English Premier League, struck his spot-kick low and hard down the middle as James dived to his left.
Two-nil down at half-time the American fans would have been wondering at half-time when the floodgates would be opened.
But instead Curtis interval talk spurred his team to be more assured and confident in possession and knocked the ball around with purpose and conviction.
That new found belief was typified when Byers came on for the laboring Keiran Murtagh of five England-based players who started the game to sting the visitors who were playing then with the next match against Guatemala on their minds.
Byers accepted Mikele Leigertwood pass down the inside left-channel; used his power to surge past on defender; then changed gears to outpaced another from cutting back onto his right-foot to clinically slip the ball past Tim Howard of Everton in the US goal.
Sixty-five minutes gone, game on.
The Americans sensed they had to make the game safe and came back. Captain George Dublin, who along with Marc Joseph, another Benna Brit, were guarding the US path to goal, was grateful to see James tipped his attempted blocked clearance over the bar as the Goliaths came knocking again.
James underlined his improvement and maturity after he fumbled an innocuous looking shot in the areas before following up with a good low save to his left before flying in the opposite direction to push a bouncing goal-bound ball to safety all in quick succession.
But the pressure became too much to bear as Gomez escaped attention at the far post to push home the American’s third after James had used his mid-rift to block the ball that deflected off one of his defender on 72 minutes.
This didn’t cause the Benna Boys to cave in and Stefan Smith was introduced for the tiring and limping Thomas to add more impetus to the team’s play which was needed at that time.
As the US settled on their victory, Byers had another opportunity to cause a twist. He pounced on an errant back-pass and after settling himself lashed a right-footer that Howard somehow managed to tip over.
What a difference that would have made if it had gone in.
But it wasn’t to be.
It will be Benna versus Reggae when Jamaica, who were leading Guatemala 2-0 late in the second-half, visit the Sir Vivian Richards stadium at North Sound on Tuesday.
This report has been possible through the sponsorship of Digicel, Bargain Centre Supermarkets and Lumber & Hardware Store