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MISSED OPPORTUNITIES – a statistical look at how the Reggae Boyz goal-scoring issue has cost them

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In the wonderful game of football, ‘GOALS WIN MATCHES’. This is a football truism that cannot be disputed. The ultimate objective of football is to outscore the opponent in order to collect maximum three points in a league or to advance to the next round in a knockout setting.

Usually, the more goals a team scores, the greater their chances of winning.

However, there is a hidden reality that the casual fan often take for granted – goals also CHANGE MATCHES. A goal at a pivotal moment in a game can swing momentum, change mindsets, alter emotions and most importantly change tactics.

Jamaica’s national senior football team’s recent disappointing exit in the third round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF) has been a source of great consternation and debate and rightly so. Most of the discussions have centred around off the field deterrents that surely have had a bearing on the team’s poor results.

One can argue that the current administrative dysfunction present in Jamaican football forces our national teams to take the field already at a disadvantage to stronger opponents. However, the reality is that RESULTS ARE DETERMINED ON THE FIELD, NOT OFF OF IT.

The senior Reggae Boyz recent uninspired displays, even in ‘must win’ games (against Panama) and against deemed lesser opponents (against Haiti), is indication of just that.

Jamaica’s senior men’s national team results between June 2015 and September 2016

Competition Date Venue Opponent Score Outcome
Copa America 2015 13-Jun Antofogasta Uruguay 1 – 0 L
Copa America 2015 16-Jun Antofogasta Paraguay 1 – 0 L
Copa America 2015 20-Jun Vina del Mar Argentina 1 – 0 L
Gold Cup 2015 8-Jul Carson Cost Rica 2 – 2 D
Gold Cup 2015 11-Jul Houston Canada 1 – 0 W
Gold Cup 2015 14-Jul Toronto El Salvador 1 – 0 W
Gold Cup 2015 18-Jul Baltimore Haiti 0 -1 W
Gold Cup 2015 22-Jul Atlanta USA 1 – 2 W
Gold Cup 2015 26-Jul Philadelphia Mexico 1 – 3 L
World Cup Qualifiers 4-Sep Kingston Nicaragua 2 – 3 L
World Cup Qualifiers 8-Sep Managua Nicaragua 0 – 2 W
Friendly 13-Oct Seoul Korea Republic 3 – 0 L
World Cup Qualifiers 13-Nov Kingston Panama 0 – 2 L
World Cup Qualifiers 17-Nov Port-Au-Prince Haiti 0 – 1 W
World Cup Qualifiers 25-Mar Kingston Costa Rica 1 – 1 D
World Cup Qualifiers 29-Mar San Jose Costa Rica 3 – 0 L
Friendly 27-May Vina Del Mar Chile 1 – 2 W
Copa Centenario 5-Jun Chicago Venezuela 0 – 1 L
Copa Centenario 9-Jun Los Angeles Mexico 2 – 0 L
Copa Centenario 13-Jun Santa Clara Uruguay 3 – 0 L
World Cup Qualifiers 2-Sep Panama City Panama 2 – 0 L
World Cup Qualifiers 6-Sep Kingston Haiti 0 – 2 L

Jamaica’s senior men’s national team results between June 2015 and September 2016

                                                                                   Overall Record for Period

WINS LOSSES DRAWS GOALS FOR GOALS AGAINST
                  7                  13                    2                   16                   29

                                                                                 World Cup Record for Period

WINS              LOSSES              DRAWS           GOALS FOR       GOALS AGAINST
                  2 5 1 6 13

Yes, they are depressing – 7 wins and 13 losses…..ouch!

Certainly not the expected results after last year’s historic Gold Cup final berth and the impressive showing a few months earlier at the maiden Copa America tournament, where they lost all three matches against Argentina, Uruguay and Chile by a single goal.

But we at SBTN are about the numbers and how it fits contextually. Paying close attention to Reggae Boyz matches, it’s not hard to see they have a finishing problem. This a problem that has always plagued the national teams and continues to plague every level of the game locally.

In fact, if it weren’t for the heroic and timely goal-scoring of English-born striker Deon Burton in 1997/1998, the ‘Road to France’ would have likely been cut short and Jamaica would likely still be vying for their first FIFA World Cup finals berth.

The goal-scoring data in the World Cup qualifying games above point to why the Reggae Boyz faltered at this stage of the campaign – they simply did not score enough goals.

The raw numbers gives the impression of poor performances. However, they do not tell the whole story as Jamaica’s players had clear cut goal-scoring opportunities early in a number of these games.

Close video analysis of all of Jamaica’s competitive matches in the World Cup qualifiers, the two Copa America tournaments between 2015 and 2016, show an alarming statistic (see below graphic).

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Taking these chances at pivotal points in the games would’ve likely changed the trajectory of games for the Winfried Schäfer coached team.

Nowhere was this more felt than during the World Cup qualification campaign, where crucial miscues in front of goal affecting the final outcomes of four of the eight games played.

Jamaica’s propensity to miss critical goal-scoring chances was also on display at both Copa America tournaments. The Copa Centenario (2016) in the United States, provided the perfect examples of the Reggae Boyz goal-scoring problem – zero goals scored and six conceded in their three group losses.

But again, it could have been a different outcome.

In the first game against Venezuela, the frame of the goal was hit twice – once with an opportunity to take an early lead and another to tie the score early in the second half

Against CONCACAF arch rivals Mexico, a solid team performance was undermined by profligate finishing when three clear breakaway opportunities went unconverted along with two other close range opportunities against a scrambling Mexican defense.

A year earlier at the 44th edition in Chile, Jamaica had legitimate goal-scoring opportunities against Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina in their three group matches. Goals in these situations would’ve seen them take the lead or tie the game, and who knows what would’ve transpired thereafter.

Don’t think because the Reggae Boyz made an historic run to the final of the 2015 Gold Cup, they didn’t miss a lot of chances in that tournament as well.

They did, but the impact of those misses didn’t hurt the team because of the stellar defensive performances. They scored 8 goals and gave up 6 in 6 matches at a rate of 1.3 goals for and 1 goal against per game.

However, when the stakes were higher during the World Cup qualification (8 games) they scored 6 and gave up 13 at an average of 0.75 for and 1.6 against per game – no surprise their fortunes ended up being contrastingly different here.

It’s a bit befuddling looking at the change of fortunes between both competitions in such a short period of time as it was largely the same system with the same players, and of course the same coaching staff. But that’s another topic for another article.

The numbers prove, that, though other factors (off the field) might’ve played a significant role in the disparity, Jamaica’s longstanding goal-scoring problem is the main culprit of another failed campaign.

The numbers, while sometimes having underlying stories, never lie.

At the top level of international football, a team’s ability to put away clear cut chances it carves out is critical because they are often fewer and the margin for error is a lot smaller at that level.

Going forward after a disappointing elimination from the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification CONCACAF qualification at the semifinal level, a larger focus on finishing chances should be at the forefront of the coaching staff’s plans.

The ability to develop a solid defensive scheme has been proven going back to the successful 1998 ‘Road to France’ World Cup campaign, but it will all count for little in the way of results if the Jamaican national football teams aren’t able to significantly improve on finishing goal-scoring opportunities that come their way.

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