Football: World Cup - Jamaica return with heads high

Jamaica 2 Whitmore 39, 54 Japan 1 Nakayama 75 Att: 43,500
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THE DANCING feet and dreadlocks of Theodore Whitmore cut an exotic dash amid the drizzle here yesterday. The Jamaican winger with a touch of the Ricky Villa about him used each of his red boots to score a fine goal in either half, enabling his team to leave bottom place in Group H to Japan.

Jamaica's first win in the World Cup finals owed as much to wayward Japanese finishing as to Whitmore's virtuosity. The blue shirts carved out numerous scoring opportunities, only for the excitement of the moment to go to their heads.

Their all-action style finally created a chance, Masashi Nakayami could not miss with 19 minutes remaining. But by then Whitmore had twice exposed their lack of tackling ability and Jamaica dug in to make sure they left France with heads held high.

The determination with which they withstood heavy late pressure, like the endeavour Japan summoned in the hope of avoiding a third defeat, made nonsense of the idea that the result was irrelevant. The losers' faces were contorted with anguish at the end; the Jamaicans embraced as if England's openers had gone without scoring at Sabina Park.

It obviously mattered to the two sets of supporters. Carnival may be a concept more familiar to the Caribbean than the Far East, yet Japan's fans persevered with singing, chanting and rhythmic swaying that augurs well for the finals they will co-host in 2002.

They are not unlike Scotland's followers. The outstanding Hidetoshi Nakata even has his hair dyed the same gingery hue as the artificial tufts in the tammies of the Tartan Army, and their performance was similarly blighted by, dare one say it, kamikaze defending.

Before that, though, Japan almost produced one of the goals of the tournament after 10 minutes. Nakata's sumptuously flighted pass invited an equally composed shot by Shoji Jo. Unmarked, he went for the glory of a first- time volley which flashed just wide.

Jamaica's hybrid of home-grown talent and Premiership journeymen gradually began to retaliate. Ian Goodison had a goal ruled out because Paul Hall had impeded the goalkeeper, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

Whitmore, twisting and swerving, promptly forced a diving save from the keeper. Six minutes from half-time, after a long punt from Onandi Lowe was headed down by Marcus Gayle, his coolly-placed shot left no such scope for heroics.

Early in the second half, Whitmore struck again. Taking a pass by Fitzroy Simpson out wide, he glided inside Naoki Soma with his right foot before scoring sweetly with the left.

Japan merely intensified their efforts. Akira Narahashi shook Jamaica's woodwork; Jo went on a slalom through the defence before again blazing wide; and a last-ditch intervention by Christopher Dawes denied Nakayama after he had rounded Aaron Lawrence.

Nakayama set up a rousing finale by bundling in Japan's first goal after more than 250 minutes' play, but Jamaica held out and almost added to their advantage with a brutal shot by Walter Boyd which Kawaguchi saved acrobatically. At least that meant that no one stole Whitmore's show.

JAPAN: (3-5-2) Kawaguchi (Bellmare Hiratsuka); Narahashi (Kashima Antlers), Soma (Kashima Antlers), Ihara (Yokohama Marinos); Jo (Yokohama Marinos); Akita (Kashima Antlers), Nanami (Jubilo Iwata), Nakayama (Jubilo Iwata), Nakata (Bellmare Hiratsuka); Yamaguchi (Yokohama Flugels), Omura (Yokohama Marinos). Substitutes: Lopes (Bellmare Hiratsuka) for Jo, 60; Hirano (Grampus 8) for Omura, 60; Ono (Urawa RD) for Nanami, 90.

JAMAICA: (3-5-2) Lawrence (Reno); Goodison (Olympic Gardens), Gardner (Harbour View), Sinclair (Chelsea); Malcolm (Seba United), Dawes (Galaxy United), Whitmore (Seba United), Simpson (Portsmouth), Lowe (Harbour View); Hall (Portsmouth), Gayle (Wimbledon). Substitutes: Boyd (Arnett Gardens) for Hall, 71; Burton (Derby) for Gayle, 81; Earle (Wimbledon) for Simpson, 90.

Referee: G Benkoe (Austria)