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Jamaica make their point in World Cup

GOAL-DEN MOMENT: Jamaica celebrate their goal against Panama

MARVIN ELLIOTT'S 23rd-minute header, Jamaica's sole first-half effort on target, sealed a vital World Cup Qualifying point against Panama in a tense 1-1 contest at Kingston's National Stadium on Friday.

The Bristol City midfielder, who has netted twice in the Championship this term, gave the out-of-sorts Reggae Boyz the lead against the run of play.

Leeds United's Rodolph Austin's telling cross, following a corner conceded by Felipe Baloy, found Elliott in the centre of the box who sent the ball into the bottom left corner that sent the home fans wild.

But the Reggae Boyz failed to take advantage of the visitors missing their regular keeper Jaime Penedo with a broken finger and pepper his replacement Luis Mejia, a graduate from the youth set up, with shots on target.

The Boyz paid the price for their lack of attacking nous as Panama poured forward throughout a one-sided second half.

Veteran Blas Perez, affectionately known as 'Mighty Mouse' for his dazzling runs and tenacity, set up Luis Henriquez on 66 minutes. The left-footed shot from outside the box whizzed past Jamaican captain and shotstopper Donovan Ricketts to the bottom right corner, which briefly deflated the vocal home supporters and players alike.

The closest the Boyz got to snatching victory was in injury time, when Garath McCleary's two left-footed long range efforts were in vain. His first attempt was blocked and his follow-up whistled close to the gaping goalmouth.

Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore was outwitted and outmaneouvred by Panama's twin brothers - head coach Julio Dely Valdes and his assistant Jorge Dely Valdes.

The Reggae Boyz started with a 4-4-1-1 formation, which altered to an attacking 4-1-4-1 when pressing forward but reverted to an ineffective 4-3-3 after the interval.

After their historic first ever World Cup qualifying point in Mexico, there was no reason for Whitmore to tinker with his defence. So Demar Phillips, Nyron Nosworthy, Adrian Mariappa and Jermaine Taylor were given the tough task to halt FC Dallas predator Perez and Panama's leading all-time marksman Luis Tejada.

Perez, 31, competing in his third and final World Cup qualifying campaign, explained: "There's a harmony in this Panama team, our solidarity is our strength. Our mentality is to steal some points on the road."

Jamaica debutant Jermaine Beckford made an indifferent first appearance in place of Ryan Johnson, who was the lone striker during last month's scoreless stalemate in Mexico.

Beckford, the Huddersfield Town star was clearly not match fit, having previously played just 20 Championship minutes in the past six weeks due to injury, and lasted 65 minutes until the lively Theo Robinson took his place and injected some much needed energy into the forward line.

Experienced Luton Shelton, who plies his trade with Turkish team Karabukspor, did look dangerous for the home side in the hole behind Beckford. But the 27-year-old was frustrated by a solid defence and always seemed unlikely to add to his tally of 35 goals for the Boyz.

The English Premier League duo of Jobi McAnuff and McCleary - both of whom play for Reading - got the nod with Austin and Elliott making up the midfield. But Reading skipper McAnuff, who recently returned to represent the Boyz following an absence for more than 10 years, was replaced on 78 minutes by Sheffield Wednesday's Jermaine Johnson. The attacking midfielder was thrown into the cauldron as the Boyz tried a desperate last-gasp three-pronged attack to steal the points.

But all credit to Whitmore who masterminded their hard-fought draw over a physical Panama outfit with the help of six British-based stars making their Kingston debut at the stadium nicknamed 'The Office'.

Jamaica are unbeaten in their two opening World Cup qualifying matches, but the Boyz will go into Tuesday's contest in Costa Rica confident of collecting maximum points and hope it is third time lucky.

Jamaica: Donovan Ricketts - Jermaine Taylor, Nyron Nosworthy (Omar Daley 45), Adrian Mariappa, Demar Phillips - Rodolph Austin, Jobi McAnuff (Jermaine Johnson 78), Garath McCleary, Marvin Elliott - Luton Shelton - Jermaine Beckford (Theo Robinson 65). Bookings: Beckford, Phillips, Daley, McCleary

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