This article is part of the Guardian’s 2019 Women’s World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries who have qualified for France. The Equalizer, as part of the network, will profile each of the 24 countries.
Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, ranked 53rd in the world, are set to make their historic bow at the Women’s World Cup in France as the first ever Caribbean team to appear at the finals.
That achievement came by way of a momentous third-place finish in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October after a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout win over Panama. The Reggae Girlz lost only two games (2-0 against Canada and 6-0 against the United States) during the entire qualifying period, scoring 53 goals and conceding 14. They were led by their talismanic striker, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who ended the qualifiers with 19 goals.
The team traveling to France includes several American- and English-born players with Jamaican heritage, and is virtually the same that competed in the qualifiers, but the coach, Hue Menzies, has been able to unearth some new players before this summer’s tournament.
Menzies and his players have taken a liking to the 4-3-3 formation, as they bank on their speed and athleticism to open up opposing defenses, particularly from the wide areas. Shaw, as always, will be the focal point in the attacking trio and could make a difference against their more illustrious Group C opponents if is she is able to get on the ball close enough to goal.
As mentioned, The Reggae Girlz appear more effective when playing on the break using their speed, and the return of forward Trudi Carter from injury should add further impetus. The defense showed its strength in the qualifiers, and while they often play deep against tougher opponents, the center backs sometimes step up in an attempt to pressure the ball high and support the midfield’s attempt to gain possession.
Strong performances can be expected from the captain, Konya Plummer, and her fellow defender Allyson Swaby. They are both strong in the air and resolute on the ground (although, ultimately, the defensive work has always been a group effort with everyone putting in full effort and working together).
All in all, Jamaica are one of the biggest underdogs at the World Cup, but they are certainly not going to the tournament accepting defeat. And it is important to never underestimate the power of a group ready to put everything on the line, not just for themselves, but for the people of Jamaica.
Hue Menzies was born in England and grew up in Jamaica before moving to the United States in 1980, where he continued to improve his football knowledge. He now has more than 30 years of coaching experience, and holds a US Soccer National A Coaching License and a National Youth Coaching License. Additionally, he has 15 years of Olympic development coaching experience at the national, state and regional levels.
He leads a team that has always been passionate about shaping the entire football structure in Jamaica since being introduced to the national women’s program on the recommendation of Jamaican women’s football ambassador Cedella Marley in 2014. Despite the lack of resources in Jamaica, Menzies achieved the historic feat of making the Reggae Girlz the first Caribbean team to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is a 5’11” player whose physicality and speed of thought have made her successful starting at a young age. In fact, she was so good so young that she played for Jamaica’s U-15, U-17, and U-20 teams simultaneously starting at age 14. She made her debut for the senior women’s national team on August 23, 2015, scoring once in a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic.
Since then, the 22-year-old has been a force to reckon with, and she already heads the Reggae Girlz’ all-time charts with 26 goals in 30 caps at the time of writing. In 2018, Shaw was the first female player to be named the Guardian Footballer of the Year, an award given to a footballer “who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty.”
She is also the first football player from Jamaica and the Caribbean to sign with Nike. Shaw has studied at Eastern Florida State College and the University of Tennessee and is expected to turn professional this summer.
Did you know?
Christina Chang is the oldest player on the Reggae Girlz team at 33 years of age. Despite her age, the US-born defender, who is in the best shape of her life, readily takes time away from her busy schedule as an air traffic controller at Miami International Airport to parade her skills.
So passionate and dedicated is Chang to the Jamaican cause that she decided to put on hold her plans to start a family in order to play at a World Cup. She has booked her honeymoon for after the tournament in France.
Brief history of women’s football in Jamaica
Women’s football in Jamaica came to life in 1991 when the Reggae Girlz played their first international match against Haiti, losing 1–0. Since then, they have become one of the top women’s international teams in the region, along with Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti, and their current FIFA ranking of 53rd is their highest ever.
They have made six appearances at the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup since 2002, with their best finish coming in 2018, when they finished third and qualified for the World Cup in France.
There have been bumps on the road, however, and eight years ago the women’s program, as well as the women’s Olympic program, were disbanded by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) due to lack of funding, which saw the country being taken off the FIFA rankings due three years of inactivity.
The program was restarted in 2014 with the support of Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley. Marley’s robust fundraising efforts eventually enabled the Reggae Girlz to achieve their historic World Cup qualification, after failing to qualify for the 2015 showpiece and again going unranked by Fifa in June 2017.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Some will already have heard about the 17-year-old sensation Jody Brown. The diminutive player may be shy in nature, but once she has a ball at her feet, her true personality comes to light. Brown is one of only a few players who have so far represented the country at all levels—U-15, U-17, U-20, and now the senior Reggae Girlz team—and she has done so with distinction.
At the time of writing, Brown had made 10 appearances for the senior team, scoring seven goals. Her impressive performances at the CONCACAF Women’s Championships earned her the best young player of the tournament award.
What is the realistic aim for Jamaica in France and why?
While it is not impossible for the Jamaica to get out of Group C and into the round of 16, they face a daunting path to get there. As such, the realistic aim for the team known for its determination and spirit is to give its best to secure at least one victory in this, their first outing at a Women’s World Cup, to do themselves and their country proud. The Reggae Girlz are certainly an outsider to make it out of the group stage.
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