The day Jamaica made history and qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the focus of CONCACAF women’s football seismically shifted.
The qualification of Reggae Girlz of Jamaica at France 2019 has in part meant an unprecedented leap in growth and development for the Caribbean.
It’s also important to note that the fairytale success story was of monumental historical proportion, as the island became the first in the region to be catapulted into the global gaming stratosphere and its largest stage, world Cup.
On October 17, 2018, at the Concacaf Women’s Championship at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Jamaica did the unthinkable.
In the third-place game, the Girlz beat Panama in an epic game, which ended 2-2 after regulation time and extra time. And the two, in the scent of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, had to be separated by the dreaded penalties. As it turned out, Jamaica triumphed 4-2, and the rest, as they say, is history.
During this magical journey was assistant coach Andrew Price and he remembered the momentous occasion as if it had happened yesterday.
“Emotions were like a roller coaster on the bench in this final qualifying game [against Panama]. We took the lead twice and lost it twice. We deliberately saved our changes late in the game to make sure we were prepared for an extension.
âBut the master stroke was when we decided to replace goalkeeper Sydney Schneider with Nicole McClure. We had been practicing on penalties the day before and Nicole was amazing in front of the goal so when we saw the clock ticking it was important that we put her on the field before the time runs out, âsaid Price. .
As part of a technical squad led by head coach Hue Menzies, the assistant coach reveled in the coaches’ tactical shrewdness as he believed decisions off the pitch positively impacted the team. outcome of the match.
âBy practicing the penalty shootout, we had the players walk the long way from the half line to the penalty area to shoot each kick, so for this match day the players would be prepared for the scenario, and everything worked perfectly. As you know, Nicole saved two penalties and we scored all of our penalties, ârecalls Price.
The seasoned tactician said there was a belief in the camp that the World Cup dream was achievable as the team went through the layers of qualifying.
âConfidence and self-confidence came after the first round of qualifying for the Caribbean World Cup held in Haiti. It was a difficult tournament considering the conditions and the environment the young girls had to face.
âThe real test was the last match of the round, between us and the host Haiti, while we were fighting for the only qualifying place. We came into the game on similar points, but we had a two-goal greater goal difference. It was enough to draw to move forward. In front of a partisan and sometimes hostile crowd of 15,000 Haitian supporters, we were down 2-0 in the first half.
âBut we showed our real strength by withdrawing a goal before half-time. During the half-time chat, we told the Girlz to relax and play their normal game. They came out and, in a touching performance, silenced the crowd with the tying goal. For the rest of the game, we fought tooth and nail to make sure we got to the next round, ârecalls Price.
While the qualifying route took its detours, the Girlz saw themselves more than just competitors but real contenders for a place in France 2019.
âWith each qualifying round, the confidence of the Girlz grew. They believed they were on a mission to accomplish something great. They have become a close-knit family – all for one and one for all. They were willing to be patient and trust the process, and they did it one game at a time. They took inspiration from the obstacles to work even harder, âsaid Price.
He said when the final whistle came in the deciding game against Panama, there was a feeling of euphoria that swept through the team and all support staff.
âWe were just overwhelmed with joy. The immediate reaction was to shout, “We did it.” We were so thrilled. We jumped up and hugged each other. Then our next reaction was to take the field and celebrate with the Girlz. The moment was surreal. It was as if time had stood still for the moment, âsaid Price.
Jamaica’s success, Price said, was a signing moment for the entire Caribbean, a rallying cry that anything is possible if one dares to dream.
âIt was certainly a triumph for the whole Caribbean. No different from when Haiti qualified for its first Men’s World Cup in 1974. It inspired nations like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago that it could be done. Likewise, our historic qualification will inspire other Caribbean countries. The gap is narrowing between the world’s footballing powers and the rest, because a global village has made catching up possible, âhe explained.
âPreviously at Concacaf, the automatic teams would be the United States, Canada and Mexico. But now you have Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Haiti, Trinidad and others knocking on the door. This is because FIFA and Concacaf have made a significant contribution to the development of women’s football, âadded Price.
In France, the Girlz lost all of their Group C matches, but even losing to significantly stronger opponents the learning experience was invaluable.
âFrom the draw we knew we were in the ‘Group of Death’, with top teams like Brazil, Australia and Italy. It was always going to be difficult against these teams. But we decided that we were going to be competitive and give a good image of ourselves. The experience we gained was part of the learning curve. It’s the experience you can only get by playing against the best, ânoted Price.