THEY came with the promise of sunshine but delivered football in keeping with a wet night in Cardiff. Jamaica, the much trumpeted Reggae Boyz, played to a less uplifting beat at Ninian Park last night leaving Wales pondering gloomily that the visitors will be playing the World Cup finals this summer while they will be watching on television.
Discipline allied to freedom was what Fitzroy Simpson had promised and neither was apparent. Indeed the former went missing altogether when Onandi Lowe was sent off nine minutes from time for elbowing Paul Trollope. So much for a showcase to display their talents.
"They're like Brazil, they like to play it through the middle," Bobby Gould, the Wales manager, said, "and against better opposition, on a good pitch, it will be interesting to see how they cope." On this evidence, where Wales would not have been flattered by a 3-0 win, not very well.
Only the third team from the Caribbean to reach the World Cup finals, the impression Jamaica gave was that they will need to improve quickly if they are going to be anything but Group H also-rans at France 98.
This was Jamaica's 15th match in a 27-game run-in to the World Cup, but rather than suggesting a coming together, weaknesses were exposed. Their defence was a mess and clearly did not relish playing against big strikers, while their inclination to give the ball away will surely be punished by the world's best.
No one would bracket Wales in that category but they will have left the more satisfied side. Gareth Taylor, John Hartson and Simon Haworth missed relatively simple opportunities and Darren Barnard and Craig Bellamy had promising debuts. Put Ryan Giggs in this team and the difference would be dramatic, but more than one side could say that.
This was a Wales home match although you had to check in the atlas to make sure. The streets around Ninian Park were awash with black, green and gold, the colours of Jamaica, while loudspeaker announcements had to be made to turn away those who did not have tickets. Even then the kick-off had to be delayed.
When the match did kick-off the atmosphere was more akin to a Jamaican Test match than a miserable evening in the Principality. A wall of sound of horns and bells hit you, while anyone inclined to follow the perceived wisdom of playing to the whistle would not have got out of the dressing- room. How the referee managed to attract the players' attention was a mystery.
Maybe that is why the play refused to catch fire. Jamaica began promisingly, but once Simpson had tried an audacious chip from 35 yards that flew over the home bar after 14 minutes, it was Wales who got better.
It soon became apparent that the Jamaican defenders were uncomfortable under the high ball and Taylor, in particular, rampaged around winning virtually every header. Taylor on the ground is a different matter however, and if he had been more sure-footed Wales would have been 2-0 up at half- time. The Sheffield United striker dallied too long over Gary Speed's 38th-minute pass and allowed Ian Goodison to get a block in, but if that miss was acceptable, his next was not.
Mark Pembridge's cross five minutes before the interval fell between Hartson and Aaron Lawrence in the Jamaican goal and the rebound fell to Taylor, whose volley at the partially protected goal was criminally wide.
Hartson was equally culpable for heading over from point-blank range from Trollope's cross after 64 minutes while Haworth swung and missed at John Oster's cross after 77 minutes when the slightest touch would surely have sufficed.
The Jamaicans? Andrew Williams had their first shot on target after 70 minutes. Lowe's sending-off summed up a disappointing evening.
WALES (4-4-2): P Jones (Southampton); Jenkins (Huddersfield), Williams (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Coleman (Fulham), Barnard (Barnsley); Oster (Everton), Savage (Leicester), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Speed (Newcastle); Hartson (West Ham), Taylor (Sheffield Utd). Substitutes: Trollope (Fulham) for Speed, h/t; Bellamy (Norwich) for Taylor, 57; Haworth (Coventry) for Hartson, 76.
JAMAICA (3-5-2): Lawrence (Reno); Dixon (Hazard), Goodison (Olympic Gardens), Dawes (Chadzame); Malcolm (Seba Utd); Simpson (Portsmouth), Earle (Wimbledon), Cargill (Harbour View), Gardner (Harbour View); Hall (Portsmouth), Burton (Derby). Substitutes: Barrett (gk, Violet Kickers) for Lawrence, h/t; Gayle (Wimbledon) for Burton, h/t; Williams (Real Mona) for Earle, 59; Substitutes: D Powell (Derby) for Simpson, 68; Sewell (Constant Spring) for Malcolm, 71; Lowe (unattached) for Hall, 76.
Referee: S Dougal (Scot).