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McCleary pounces to hit jackpot for Jamaica's Gold Cup run

ON THE BALL: Garath McCleary

GARATH MCCLEARY was gifted a goal, his simple tap-in enough for Jamaica to win Tuesday's Gold Cup tie against El Salvador 1-0 and book their quarter-final berth.

The midfielder swooped on a loose ball from goalkeeper Derby Carrillo's one-handed save, following Jobi McAnuff's long-range drive on 71 minutes, which settled the bruising battle at the BMO Field in Toronto.

And the slender success, after Canada and Costa Rica played out a scoreless draw, meant that the Reggae Boyz topped Group B with seven points following their 2-2 stalemate with Costa Rica and a 1-0 injury time triumph over Canada.

Now the Boyz appear to be hot on the heels of replicating the glory years of 1998, the last time that Jamaica reached the last four in the Gold Cup, and are in with a real shot of adding to last year's Caribbean Cup success.

Jamaica head coach Winfried Schäfer said: “Our spirit is very good and we can only win when we have a strong team spirit, but now we must go to the next step.”

Jamaica's reward is a quarter-final showdown against Caribbean rivals Haiti, who finished runner-up in their group and like Jamaica are solid in defence but lack spark upfront, at Baltimore on Saturday.

But Schafer's side will tackle Haiti without key players in each position who all came a cropper against the Salvadorians in a slow-paced yet eventful match.

Midfielder Jermaine Taylor was substituted on nine minutes after being injured following a fight for the ball with Andres Flores, and is thought to have aggravated a thigh muscle.

Shotstopper Dwayne Miller was carried off quarter-of-an-hour later after taking an unintentional hit to the head in a collision with Pablo Punyed so may be rested as a precaution.

Striker Darren Mattocks will be suspended after being given his marching orders on 81 minutes, having been shown a second yellow card for a foolish studs-up challenge. And Je-Vaughn Watson collected his second yellow in the competition, so the midfielder will also be absent for the Haiti clash.

Former El Salvador captain Flores was keen to impress on his first start in the tournament, but was booked on four minutes for badly bothering Giles Barnes and within 100 seconds of his caution clattered into Taylor.

After Ryan Thompson took over between the sticks from injured Miller, the opening half finally settled down with Jamaica dominating despite failing to producing any real scoring chances.

Yet the closest the Boyz came to taking the lead was on 35 minutes, when Carrillo nervously fumbled Kemar Lawrence's free-kick only for Adrian Mariappa's ambitious effort from an acute angle to thunder across the gaping goalmouth.

After the turnaround El Salvador began to boss the ball around, with Jamaica's now trademark counter-attacking play resulting in end-to-end excitement for fans despite the Boyz clearly lacking the killer instinct of a goalscorer to sink their opponents.

At the other end of the pitch it was Thompson's spectacular double-save on the hour-mark that kept Jamaica in the tie. He forced away Punyed's long-range drive only to parry the ball into the path of the industrious Flores, but made amends by instinctively blocking the ball with his legs.

And the overworked Thompson had to stay alert as Arturo Alvarez, a lively second-half substitute on 62 minutes, twice came close to breaking the deadlock.

But the Salvadoran defence was caught ball-watching when Jamaica – lacking any real creativity in the penalty area – were fortunate to score against the run of play on 71 minutes.

Rodolph Austin's counter-attacking punt found McAnuff, who ambitiously got his shot on target. But Carrillo's one-handed save fell straight into the path of the unmarked McCleary to coolly convert the rebound.

But the Boyz were dealt a bitter blow 10 minutes later when Mattocks saw red, and will automatically miss Saturday's quarter-final against Haiti.

El Salvador came close to snatching a stoppage time equaliser, Thompson brilliantly tipping away Punyed's glancing header and Dustin Corea fluffing the rebound by screwing his shot into the side netting.

Jamaica only survived the late onslaught through a combination of poor finishing and fine saves from Thompson to extend their unbeaten run to eight games against the Salvadorians.

And Jamaica maintain their dreams of reaching at least the semi-final stage courtesy of their solid defence and counter-attacking tactics, but the lack of a commanding striker remains a worry.

Once the forwards are firing on all cylinders then the Boyz should be all guns blazing and not rely on squeezing past opponents.

Mariappa enthused: “This tournament is something we're all very focused about, achieving what we think we can – we know that we can achieve things. Going into the next game, we want to get another positive result.”

JAMAICA: Miller (Thompson, 24); Lawrence, Taylor (Hector, 9), Morgan, Mariappa; Austin, Watson; McAnuff, Barnes (Powell, 70), McCleary; Mattocks Subs: Blake, Laing, Phillips, Humphrey, Grant, Clennon, Ottey, Dawkins, Seaton

EL SALVADOR: Carrillo; Larin, Molina, Mendoza (Corea, 77), Garcia; Menjivar, Ceren; Alas, Punyed, Flores (Bonilla, 62); Herrara (Alvarez, 62) Subs: Contreras, Arroyo, Romero, Torres, Renderos, Orellana, Maldonado, Henriquez, Burgos

GROUP A: Winners – USA, Runner-Up – Haiti, 3rd Place -Panama
GROUP B: Winners – Jamaica, Runner-Up - Costa Rica, 3rd Place - El Salvador
GROUP C: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago (playing July 15)

GOLD CUP KNOCKOUT FIXTURES
July 18: USA v 3rd Place Group B or Group C (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, 5pm ko local time)
July 18: Jamaica v Haiti (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, 8pm ko local time)
July 19: Group C Winner v Panama (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, 4.30pm ko local time)
July 19: Costa Rica v Group C Runner-Up (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, 7.30pm ko local time)
July 22: Semi-final (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 6pm ko local time)
July 23: Semi-final (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 9pm ko local time)
July 25: 3rd/4th Play-off (PPL Park, Chester, 4pm ko local time)
July 27: Final (Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, 7.30pm ko local time)

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