THERE was one question that could not go away as Jamaica met Manchester City last night: why on earth would a team going to the World Cup risk the humiliation of losing to a football disaster story?
Drawing against Wales in Cardiff two months ago was bad enough, but could you imagine lining up against Argentina or Croatia with a defeat at Maine Road despoiling a current form guide.
Even Bury managed to avoid that and the closest they got to France this summer was when their manager, Stan Ternent, got an engaged tone when he phoned the World Cup ticket hot-line.
Give a country the scent of the finals, however, and rationale goes out of the window, as England's World Cup single testifies. The Reggae Boyz need match practice and the Cock-up Boys provided it last night, which if nothing else had the horns and whistles of the Caribbean pitted against the dropped clangers of Moss Side.
Jamaica managed to avoid the ultimate in red faces but they did little else to encourage the belief that they will do anything but make up the numbers in France. A turgid 0-0 draw is not the stuff to draw inspiration from.
This was the first match since City sank into the Second Division and the much-billed chance to say goodbye to Georgi Kinkladze proved to be false promise because the Georgian was in Amsterdam negotiating a transfer to Ajax. In normal circumstances the fans would have every right to feel short-changed, but then they are used to that at Maine Road.
Other than Kinkladze, Joe Royle, who signed a new three-year contract that will keep him at the club until the summer of 2001, had kept his promise and fielded a near full-strength side. In other words, a collection that any self- respecting World Cup team ought to wallop.
Instead all they offered was a chance for Nicky Weaver to impress Royle with his goalkeeping. The 18-year-old made good saves from Paul Hall, Ricardo Gardner and Stephen Malcolm, but to suggest he prevented a rout would be a gross over-statement. This was a pallid Jamaican display.
Earlier in the day the Jamican coach had described his team as being like performing seals, skilful at playing tricks with the ball but not able to work as a team and last night they looked no nearer solving that conundrum. You could almost hear the giggles in Buenos Aires and Zagreb.
Manchester City (3-5-2) Weaver; Symons, Wiekens (Fenton, h-t), Vaughan; Jeff Whitley (Mason, h-t), M Brown (Brannan, 52), Pollock (Bishop, 52), Russell, Edghill; Bradbury, Dickov. Substitutes not used: Mason, Bishop.
JAMAICA (3-5-2): Lawrence (Reno); Dixon (Hazard), D Brown (Wadadah), Goodison (Olympic Gardens); Malcolm (Seba Utd), Cargill (Harbour View), Simpson (Portsmouth), Whitmore (Seba Utd), Gardner (Harbour View); Hall (Portsmouth), Williams (Real Mona). Substitutes: Burton (Derby) for Malcolm, 61; Sewell (for Whitmore, 71). Dawes (Chadzame), for Brown 76. Substitutes not used: D Powell (Derby), Waugh (unatt), Barrett (Violet Kickers, gk).
Referee: P Eastwood (Wolverhampton).
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