Wonder Women - Reggae Girlz secure historic World Cup qualification
“It is an unbelievable feeling; it is a feeling of accomplishment.”
Those words by assistant coach Andrew Price perfectly sums up the almost super human effort that led to Jamaica’s historic qualification to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Just eight years after a lack of funding forced the suspension of the national senior women’s football programme, Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a FIFA Women’s Cup, after yesterday’s intensely exciting penalty shoot-out win over Panama, in their CONCACAF Women’s Championships third place play-off in Frisco, Texas in the United States.
Jamaica are now the first Caribbean nation to qualify a team to both the men’s and women’s World Cup, following the Reggae Boyz trip to the 1998 World Cup, which, as fate would have it, also took place in France.
“What the country witnessed live here in August and in the final round was a united, focused and determined set of players, who knew exactly what they needed to do to make themselves and the country proud," added Jamaica Football Federation president, Michael Ricketts, who noted that plans to celebrate the team's success will be made public in due course.
That determination was certainly put to the test by a Panamanian team, which for large portions of the match, troubled the Jamaicans and threatened to crush their dreams.
Twice the Jamaicans took the lead, and twice they found themselves pegged back by the stubborn central Americans.
The talismanic Khadija Shaw rose to head the Jamaicans in front in the 14th minute with her third strike of the tournament before Natalia Mills’ 74th minute equaliser.
A TOTAL TEAM EFFORT
Jody Brown, a 16-year-old prodigy, who rose to national prominence from the sleepy district of Lime Hall in St Ann in 2014, after scoring a record 21 goals in the CONCACAF Under-15 tournament, was the provider for Shaw’s opener, and she completed a performance that belied her age, with a cultured finish at the near post, five minutes into extra-time, as the Jamaicans again looked set to run away with the game.
Lineth Cedeno, however, ensured the drama of a penalty shoot-out, with a classy strike of her own 10 minutes later and when she and team-mate Erika Villarreal failed to hit the mark from the spot, it was left to Dominique Bond-Flasza to score and send the Jamaicans to the France. Christina Chang, Ashleigh Shim and Deneisha Blackwood also scored for Jamaica in the shootout win.
Head coach Hue Menzies talked up the tenacity of his girls in the build-up to the contest and it was on full display, as they clawed their way back to secure a win that will go down as one of the most incredible achievement in Jamaican sporting history.
"We've got to persevere, get through these adversities. That's the mentality these kids have. Their environment creates that. Where they were brought up gives them a little bit of an edge,” Menzies noted.
So, after a rain-drenched battle in Texas, Jamaica will return to France, 20 years after the Reggae Boyz stole the heart of the world.
The fact that it was the firstborn daughter of Jamaican icon Bob Marley, Cedella, who helped to breathe life into the women's programme in 2014, adds a strong dose of romance to Jamaica's latest sporting love story.