BAPTISM OF FIRE: Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz Dealt Harsh World Cup Lessons

FRANCE - Jamaica was dealt some harsh lessons on their historic debut at soccer’s Women’s World Cup here, but won the admiration of many who witnessed their spirited effort against elite opponents and left the sport’s biggest tournament vowing the experience will make them better in the future.

shawThe Reggae Girlz failed to win a game or earn a point against three Group C opponents ranked in the top 20 by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. They scored one goal and were beaten by heavy scores in all three games.

The results exposed the gulf in quality between the Caribbean’s lone representative and some of the best teams in the world, a timely reminder the region is lagging behind in the global game.

“These are good learning experiences,” said Jamaica’s head coach Hue Menzies. “… We learned a lesson that these players we’re playing against are top quality.”

The first game against 10th ranked Brazil, on June 9 in Grenoble, Jamaica’s inexperience showed early and often. Playing in front of a large, colorful and vociferous Jamaican contingent in the Stade des Alpes, Grenoble, the Girlz, ranked 53rd, labored against a veteran team and were torched by a hat-trick of goals from Cristiane to lose 3-0.

It was, baptism by fire.

BITTER

A second bitter lesson followed on June 14 against 15th ranked Italy at Stade August-Delaune in Reims. Led by three goals from striker Cristiana Girelli, Italy swamped Jamaica 5-0 and Menzies echoed the same lament of his team’s shortcomings.

“We’re learning,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we have to come here to learn.”

Entering the third group game against Australia, Jamaica had been all but eliminated from the World Cup, holding only a slim mathematical chance of advancing to the next round. Yet the Girlz remained upbeat, promising to seek a win against the sixth ranked team in the world.

“We want to qualify (for the next round),” Menzies said the day before the game. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Once more he juggled Jamaica’s starting line-up and switched the team’s playing formation. In all, only three of Jamaica’s 23 member roster did not play at the World Cup. One was injured and ruled out of any possible action. It was a torturous three games of mix and match, patching a team as its leaks were exposed on a global stage. Menzies repeatedly offered it was normal for Jamaica to alternate players, but it was clear the Girlz - up to the end of the tournament - never truly identified a solid starting team.

Jamaica’s revamped line-up against Australia, however, appeared its best. The Girlz played with confidence and character, regularly putting the Aussies pressure. That led to a brilliant and historic goal by the Caribbean team. Star attacker Khadija Shaw, who had her best game of the tournament, skillfully shrugged off multiple challenges and thread a wonderful pass to Havana Solange. She rounded the goalkeeper and slotted the ball into the empty net.Menzies

BEST

It was Jamaica’s best World Cup moment and it cut Australia’s two-goal lead in half. But glaring rookie mistakes again cost Jamaica as Australia roared back, led by Sam Kerr, who Menziesearlier touted as the best player in the world.                                                                                       

Kerr scored four times in the 4-1 win to send the Girlz home early. But they left knowing they had warmed hearts here. Fans, many with no particular affiliation to Jamaica, repeatedly erupted in chants of “Reggae Girlz! Reggae Girlz!” during games. They knew stories of the Girlz’ struggles to get proper resources. But on the field, Jamaica also earned respect from more fancied opponents and proved they were no World Cup pushovers.

“Jamaica is a good team,” said Brazil’s Leticia Santos. “We respect … them.”

“The Jamaican team are really strong,” added Australia’s Katrina Gorry. “… We definitely weren’t surprised. We know they have quality players on their team.”

PROOF

More importantly, Jamaica proved teams from the region, with a bit more help and improvement, can be a force in women’s soccer.

“It’s all experience and we knew that,” said Shaw after Jamaica’s final game. “The World Cup is all about experience.”

Raw rookies or not, however, the Girlz admitted their bigger ambitions failed.

“At the end of the day it’s not the result that we really wanted,” said Shaw.

While what they encountered at the World Cup exposed shortcomings at all levels - administration, coaching and players alike - most of the problems can be fixed. Time, the team believes,is on Jamaica’s side.

 “This is just the beginning,” said Shaw. “Our average (age) is 22.5 (years). That’s crazy.

“I think we’re the youngest team in the World Cup and to come out here … and to give the effort and to work for each other it’s a great feeling and it’s something that we can look back on and we can say ‘hey, you know, we were here. We did this’.

“We actually scored a goal. So we can look back at that as a positive.”

Jamaica lost all its matches at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but won hearts and minds.

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