JA FLYING HIGH

Jamaica clip Italy 2-1, progress to semi-finals of Unified Football Cup

BY SANJAY MYERS
Senior staff reporter

Friday, July 20, 2018

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CHICAGO, Illinois — Jamaica qualified for the division two semi-finals after grinding out a hard-fought 2-1 win over Italy in yesterday's Group C Special Olympics Unified Football Cup match at CIBC Fire Pitch.

Damion Gordon scored for Jamaica in the 11th minute of the 60-minute encounter at the venue's north field, while substitute Lance Rutherford slid in the winner in the 57th minute.

Italy had taken an early lead through Natauno Calise's penalty kick in the third minute.

The result gave Jamaica six points after beating Japan 4-1 on Wednesday, and second place in the group. Nigeria, who beat Jamaica 1-0 on Tuesday's opening day, topped Group C with nine points after defeating Japan 3-1 yesterday.

Nigeria, as one of four group winners, are through to the division one semi-finals, while Japan and Italy, who both ended with a single point, have been eliminated.

The semi-finals and finals in both divisions are scheduled to be contested today at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

Up to press time yesterday, Jamaica's semi-final opponents were yet to be confirmed, pending the determination of the other three second-placed finishers.

Jamaica's Head Coach Shane Richards said he was pleased with the team soaking up pressure as Italy poured forward searching for the win and the coveted second place.

“We are elated because we set objectives and we met them. We are in the semi-finals and we are looking for a medal, so kudos to the guys,” he calmly told the Jamaica Observer during a post-match interview.

“I think the team played well from my perspective, knowing we only needed a draw. You expect that the team needing three points to fight because a draw is no good to them. I liked the game because it tested our mettle and we passed the test.”

He argued he was not surprised Italy asserted themselves that much against Jamaica despite them only managing a 0-0 result against and going down 0-5 to Nigeria.

“It's in the game, it's a different opponent and a different challenge for us. I wasn't surprised because I studied them and I know they play well. Today they didn't stay back; they attacked from the start of the game.

“I told them [Jamaica's players] it's better to get a point than to lose and drop out [of the competition]. There are some niggles against us because of back-to-back games and we had to get players recover because tomorrow we have double games so there is no resting time,” Richards said.

Italy were off to an ideal start yesterday afternoon when Calise struck home from the penalty spot.

But Jamaica imposed themselves on the game and drew level thanks to Damion Gordon's strike.

It was end to end action for the rest of the first half but Jamaica missed the opportunity to enter the break with an advantage when Shaun Beckford's weak penalty shot was saved by Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Ruiu.

Italy bossed the second half, but failed to make it count as Jamaica's defence and custodian Shaquon Beckford held on desperately.

As the game wore on Jamaica began to exploit gaps behind the Italians and created a number of clear goalscoring chances.

Substitute Tajae Able, who scored twice against Japan, missed two. Ruiu first advanced well off his line to block the attacker's right-footer before Able saw a left-footer roll just past the post from a tight angle.

With mere minutes remaining, Able found space on the right and played through Rutherford to expertly finish from close range.

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