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Barnes no longer Jamaica's coach - Last-minute goal brings sweet victory over Panama
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
THERE'S nothing like the sweet taste of victory, especially when it's long in coming.
That the game-winning goal came in the last minute made it even sweeter.
Keammar Daley's flunked left-footed shot from 15 yards literally crawled to Panamanian goalkeeper Luis Mejia, then bobbled over his clumsy effort and into the goal to end an enigmatic four-decade winless senior team football record for Jamaica over Panama.
The goal made a winning 3-2 scoreline for the Reggae Boyz, sending the nearly three-quarters full stadium into a frenzy for the long-awaited victory over its bogey team.
Jermaine Johnson (44th), Devon Hodges (50th and Daley (90th) scored for Jamaica, while Blas Perez (12th) and Luis Tejada (81st) scored for Panama.
Also, the victory marked the end of an unbeaten coaching stint by John Barnes, who will be leaving to take up an offer with English League Two club Tranmere Rovers, where Jamaican central defender Ian 'Pepe' Goodison is attached.
Barnes announced in a post-game press conference that he'll be taking up duties with the British club next month. Barnes contract was slated to run until the end of next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup. He officially took up duties at the Digicel Caribbean Championship in December and appeared to want to fulfil that contract.
"Ideally, I'd loved to have stayed for the Gold Cup, but I respect the decision of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) in giving Theodore Whitmore sufficient time to prepare the team for what will be a tremendous task," Barnes said.
Whitmore takes over as head coach immediately.
It was a real hard-nosed friendly international, with none of the teams giving any quarters and it was not surprising that it came to a hot-tempered finish, highlighted by the red card being shown to Jermaine Johnson and Panama's captain, Felipe Baloy, for an injury-time scuffle that looked likely to escalate into a brawl, as players from both teams faced off in much the same way they went about the contest - nobody backing down.
At the outset, the physical play of Panama literally threw the Reggae Boyz off their feet as the Central Americans asserted early command and generally made it very difficult for Jamaica to maintain possession, not only with their strength but defensive formations.
Jamaica's defence was badly out of position and it allowed Perez an easy passage to score the game's opening goal at the 12th minute.
Goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr's long clearance was headed back into mid-pitch. Panama got possession and a pass was relayed to Perez, standing between the central defenders, who were about 15 metres apart. The forward proceeded towards goal and dismissed a desperate challenge from full back Demar Phillips, who had played him onside initially, then powered a shot from near 15 yards past the diving Kerr.
The goal injected more life into Jamaica and for a brief spell, they forced a series of threatening plays in and around the Panama goal area.
Hodges, getting his first senior team start, struck a shot from 25 yards that forced a diving save from Mejia and later, hard-kicking Rodolph Austin had a blast off a free kick deflected over goal.
Soon afterwards, Jamaica got a great chance to level when Phillips' cross to the back post was headed back to the feet of an unmarked Austin, but he leaned back too much and skied the chance from six yards.
Jamaica equalised at the 44th minute with a magnificent solo effort from Jermaine Johnson.
On an incisive and very decisive dribble, he cut through the heart of the Panamanian defence with great pace as he motored approximately 65 yards to the top of the penalty box, then nailed a perfectly placed grounder just inside the goalpost, bringing roars of approval from an audience, which had long craved for the finish.
Energised, they carried that momentum into the second half and almost went ahead when Rafe Wolfe dribbled inside from left then cut back the ball along the ground to Hodges. His shot from nine yards was saved by Mejia. It really should have scored.
Within a minute, the Premier League's leading hit man proved he deserved his chance by atoning for that miss with his first Jamaica goal at the 50th minute.
Campbell-Ryce crossed from the right and goalkeeper Mejia spilled the catch at the back post, as he collided with two of his defenders. Like a panther who had seen the moment he long craved arise, Hodges pounced and lashed the loose ball with much venom into the other side of the goal.
Both teams lifted gear and Jamaica responded, which led the way to open attacking. In the see-saw flow, both teams got off shots on each other's goal, with Luton Shelton, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Johnson, who was menacing all night long, getting decent efforts to score; and Escobar and Tejada doing the same at the other end.
Panama eventually broke the ice when Tejada got between central defenders Desmond Breakenridge and Damion Stewart to rocket a header past Kerr at the 81st minute, sending the crowd into silence.
They had one last roar in the bag though, and let it out when Daley, who had just missed a put-back off a save from Nicholas Addlery's neat flick, got a lucky bump on his shot to end the long wait for a sweet victory against Panama.