I can still remember when the Jamaican men’s side won the hearts of the world during their first ever World Cup in 1998. I even treated myself to their beautiful home shirt! Sadly I lent it to someone and lost it forever, otherwise I’d be digging it out this summer while I support the Reggae Girlz as they make their first ever World Cup, also in France coincidentally.
The Reggae Girlz defeated Panama to confirm their place in next summer’s Women’s World Cup. They become the first side from the Caribbean to reach the competition after winning the shoot-out 4-2 following a 2-2 extra-time draw.
The most stunning thing about their story is that as recently as 2010, due to lack of funding, the Jamaica Football Federation cut the senior women’s program as well as the women’s Olympic program. The team was then unable to participate in the qualifiers for the 2011 Women’s World Cup and later that year, due to inactivity for more than 3 years, the side went unranked in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings.
Head coach, Hue Menzies dedicated the win to Cedella Marley “for putting her neck on the line for us.” In 2014, Cedella, daughter of football lover and musician, Bob Marley, was named the team’s official ambassador and is credited as playing a large part in their fundraising efforts. As well as being the chief executive officer of her late father’s record label she is also a respected fashion designer and had previously creating Jamaica’s kit for the London 2012 Olympics.
The team appear to be quite grounded and humble the biggest name within their squad is Khadija Shaw. The forward was named as the Guardian’s Footballer of the Year in 2018, following on from Juan Mata in 2017. The 22-year-old is a physically strong player but also known for her speed and vision, not to forget her calmness in front of goal which has seen her score 29 goals from her twenty caps.
The biggest omission to the squad was 29-year-old Shakira Duncan. Without Duncan, the squad is a little light on experience, other than Shaw, the only other member of the team with over twenty caps is 26-year-old Chinyelu Asher. The midfielder is currently plying her trade with Norway’s Stabæk along with her international teammate, Tiffany Cameron. They are not alone in the league as they are joined by Havana Solaun at Klepp and Lauren Silver at Trondheims-Ørn.
The squad also includes names from some big name European sides with Dominique Bond-Flasza plying her trade for PSV Vrouwen from Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie league. Trudi Carter and Allyson Swaby both have come off successful seasons for AS Roma in Italy.
The Reggae Girlz have had a great twelve months, picking up wins against Cuba, Panama, Chile and drawing against fellow World Cup qualifiers, South Africa. It hasn’t quite been the same story when they have come up against the biggest and more experienced sides like Canada and the United States, losing 2-0 and 6-0 respectively. While there is no disgrace in losing to either of those sides when you look at the resources available, the Girlz will need to have learnt from those experiences if they want to make an impact in France.
I can see Jamaica being difficult to beat but my head suggests that they will come back without a win that their efforts deserve. However, my heart says that in these one-off games anything can happen but the likely forward line of Carter and Shaw are going to have to be clinical if the Reggae Girlz hope to get anything out of their tough group which includes against Italy, Brazil and Australia.
The Girlz’s final World Cup warm-up will be this evening when they take on Scotland in front of over 10,000 fans at Hampden Park.