Young Reggae Girlz can take heart from U17 World Cup qualifying efforts

They might not have earned a historic spot in next year’s World Cup, but the Jamaica Under-17 women’s team should be proud of their performances in the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship which finished on Friday. Held in Montego Bay, the hosts reached the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time and secured a very creditable fourth place.

The President of the Jamaican Football Federation (JFF), Captain Horace Burrell, has expressed his delight with the girls. “What can I say, these girls have done themselves and their country proud. They have flown their nation’s flag high and with honour with the quality and passion of play.”

To reach the Championship, you had to progress from a regional qualifying round in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Tournament. For Jamaica, they didn’t have to play in this due to being hosts. Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti did enough to join the Jamaicans. There were two groups of four with United States the reigning champions.

The Reggae Girlz fared extremely well in Group A and finished top of the pile after two convincing wins (El Salvador, Haiti) and one draw (Mexico). Six goals scored and just the one conceded, it was a terrific all-round effort. Jamaica striker Asia Lee-Fat (see below) was earmarked before the event as a potential danger and she proved to be a real menace, scoring three times in three games in the group. 15-year-old Jessica Johnson, a nippy wide forward, also played an important role and bagged an impressive quick-fire brace against Haiti. That win guaranteed her team of a semi-final place, too. “It is great to know that in my fifth international match I was able to score two goals…it really feels good.” said Johnson after the match.

The top two from each group proceeded to the semi-finals knowing if they won; a place in next year’s World Cup in Costa Rica would be assured. Jamaica headed into their semi-final clash with Canada high on confidence. Their opponents were rampant in Group B as they registered an incredible 19 goals (8-0 v Guatemala, 11-0 v Trinidad and Tobago) and let in a mere two. But for all Jamaica’s buzz, they were undone by a fluid, offensively efficient Canadian side, 0-5. They’d more than met their match. However, their journey wasn’t over. Not yet. Thanks to a Third place match, Merron Gordon’s girls still had one more game to compete in which was more about pride than anything else. They met USA, who by their usually high standards had failed miserably as they were defeated by Mexico on penalties in the other semi-final. Jamaica were trounced, 8-0, but it was expected after such a long, tiring week.

The team came within touching distance of qualifying for Costa Rica, but still deserve heaps of praise for the way they conducted themselves throughout. The other Caribbean nations endured torrid tournaments, both Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti finishing rock bottom of their respective groups. Asked on how he thinks the women’s game is developing in Jamaica, Burrell responded positively indeed. “There is no doubt that awareness of the women’s game has now been heightened…people, including the private sector, now see that Jamaica’s football in all areas is on the up. When you look at how the people in Montego Bay turned out in their numbers to cheer the girls on speaks volume that the women’s game and the performance of this team in particular have appealed to them.”

Meanwhile, the technical coordinator of Jamaica’s women’s football program, Vin Blaine, spoke about the size of the island compared to the sort of countries they have to face. “We are a small country, so to qualify would have been a massive thing when you look at the number of players available to countries like Mexico and the USA. In some cases it’s more than the population of Jamaica.”

Blaine continued: “We are a proud country and we are trying to instil that into the girls, and as we always say, ‘wi likkle but we tallawah’ (we are little, but have depth).” There’s no doubt that the plucky Jamaicans’ performances in qualifying will have a significant effect on the nation and fellow young, budding women footballers to get involved and reach for their dreams. It shows with team unity, resolve and belief, anything is possible. For sure, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Reggae Girlz should be over the moon with their achievements. The future is certainly bright.