Football: Look out France, here come the Reggae Boyz

Jamaica 0 Mexico 0
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The Independent Online
The "reggae boyz" are learning French. Jamaica became the first ever English-speaking Caribbean nation to qualify for the World Cup finalsby drawing 0-0 with Mexico in their last match of the Concacaf (North and Central America) qualifying zone here yesterday.

The Jamaicans only needed the draw to make sure of pipping El Salvador for the third and final place in France. In the event, the United States, who had already qualified, beat El Salvador 4-0 anyway in Foxboro.

The draw meant Jamaicans did not have to wait for the result from Massachusetts to start the biggest party here since Britain granted them independence in 1962. In fact, they did not even wait for the kick-off. The party began the National Stadium - known to the local fans as "The Office" - at 10 in the morning, four hours before the game started, with live reggae bands arousing the crowd, highlighted by Jimmy Cliff. With tickets at a premium, ticketless Jamaicans lined up in almost orderly fashion outside the lowest parts of the stadium's concretes - at points only 10ft high - to take their chances at climbing in.

The game was relatively quiet until an announcer came out with the magic words after only 20 minutes: "The United States is beating El Salvador 1-0." Three similar announcements later on, as the Americans added to their tally, took the pressure off the local side.

The Jamaicans looked anxious in the early stages until their English- born trio, Deon Burton, Fitzroy Simpson and Paul Hall - given Jamaican nationality earlier this year to boost the team's chances - helped calm them down. Their fourth Englishman, Wimbledon's Robbie Earle, came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute.

Jamaica's Brazilian coach Rene Simoes - wearing a "Jesus Saves" T-shirt - stalked the touchline, telling his players to stay cool. With 10 minutes to go, and qualification obvious given the US lead, all of Jamaica went wild. In the stadium, in bars all over the country and on the streets, Jamaicans chanted: "Go Reggae Boyz go" and "We're dancing all the way to France".

Burton came close in the second minute with a long shot. Simpson also tested the Mexican goalkeepr Oswaldo Sanchez in the 11th minute from a 30-yard free-kick and the Linval Dixon tried from similar range. Once their midfielder Theodore Whitmore took control of the game, the `reggae boyz' never really looked like losing.

As the team did a lap of honour, an announcement that today would be a national holiday sent the 30,000-plus fans into a frenzy.

Paul Hall said it was the most exciting moment of his career. "It's brilliant, I'm ecstatic. In the beginning, no one gave us a chance but we showed today that not only can we play football but we're the best supported team in the world."

Jamaica (4-4-2) Barrett; Sewell, Dixon, Brown, Goodison; Gardner (Messam, 87), Cargill, Simpson, Whitmore (Earle, 73); Hall, Burton (Dawes, 83).

Mexico (4-4-2): Sanchez; Suarez, Gabriel Deanda, Romero, Pardo, Nicolas Ramirez, Del Olmo (Ramon Ramirez), Garcia Aspe, Chavez, Luis Garcia, Hermosillo (Peleaz).

Referee: J A Arana (Peru).