KINGSTON, Jamaica – Collective euphoria filled Independence Park to the brim at the end of Jamaica’s 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over the US national team Friday night, then burst forth into the streets of this bustling tropical capital as a small but proud nation celebrated another historic milestone in their 50th anniversary year of independence.
Kingstonians carried on the party late into the night all over the city, from uptown nightclubs to back-alley rum shops – and even in the postgame press conference underneath the stadium’s grandstand, where VIP guests at a corporate sponsor’s party were asked to “put down your drinks” as the small room was hurriedly converted into something approaching a media work area.
The full weight of Jamaica’s achievement was driven home when striker Luton Shelton, the country’s all-time leading scorer, ranked his game-winning goal against the Yanks at the top of the heap.
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“It’s a big feeling for me. It’s the most important goal for me, for my playing for Jamaica,” he said. “I’ve scored 34, 35 goals, but it’s the most important goal. Because as you can see, we started very slow, and they got a goal in the first minute and it wasn’t good for us. But we keep our focus and go out there and do what we have to do. We got that equalizer and a belief we can win the game for sure.”
The triumphant attitude also extended to Reggae Boyz head coach Theodore Whitmore. A famously even-keeled personality, “Tappa” did allow himself a brief bit of crowing after leading his country to its first win over the USA.
“It’s a very historic night for me,” he told local reporters. “I’ve never done it as a player, I’ve done it as a coach, beaten the USA team. To know that I beat the US team [coached by] one of my favorite players in the game, which is [Jurgen] Klinsmann, I’m very elated.
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“I’m getting the backing from the administration. It’s just the sponsors, corporate Jamaica, and the fans to come out and give their support and play their part, and believe in me and believe in the team,” he noted later. “Because we’ve been building this for three years now, and we still have doubters, you know? So I think tonight, one have to look into yourself, and give Caesar what is due to Caesar.”
That line sent a ripple of approving hoots and chuckles through the crowd, and they were further elated to hear Whitmore offer a positive approach to Tuesday’s rematch against the US in Columbus, Ohio.
“Well yes, definitely,” he said when asked if Jamaica could win again, this time on US turf. “It’s 11 v 11 and with the help of the Almighty – we can leave out God in nothing we do – with the help of the Almighty, the players, they’re confident, the support, we can do it.”