Hard road to France

Football figures shower Girlz with praise, look back on journey to success

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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Once again, Jamaica's sporting ambassadors have done the spectacular.

This time, the country's women's team has created history by becoming the first from the Caribbean to qualify for a senior Fifa Women's World Cup.

It's an achievement few thought possible.

Jamaica's Reggae Girlz yesterday's pulled off a great footballing coup, defeating Panama 4-2 on penalties in the Concacaf Women's Championship third-place match to slide into the Fifa Women's World Cup slated for France 2019.

Both teams had played out a dramatic 2-2 draw after regulation and extra time in Frisco, Texas.

The USA and Canada, who at press time were contesting the final, had already secured the spots.

The feat, which mirrored the achievement of the Reggae Boyz 21 years ago to France '98 triggered an outpouring of congratulatory messages from key stakeholders in the Jamaican football firmament.

“I am delighted... I am over the moon,” said Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Michael Ricketts.

“I must give God thanks, because it was He that I went for guidance when it comes to the women's programme. I must thank the players, the coaches, the government, our sponsors, the board of directors of the JFF, Elaine Walker-Brown (chairperson of the JFF Women's Committee), Jean Nelson (team manager) and the Cedella Marley and the Marley Foundation, and every single person who played a part in this amazing success,” he told the Jamaica Observer just minutes after the Girlz wrote themselves into the history books.

Ricketts said the achievement will not only catapult women's football to unprecedented heights, but has the potential to bear fruits for the national programme on a whole.

“This achievement will certainly augur well for women's football in Jamaica and must be a catalyst for change, and must serve as motivation as we move forward... this must be an inspiration to all young women in Jamaica.

“We have a very marketable football product and, with the Girlz qualifying for the World Cup, we have a great opportunity to market ourselves in the global market; and I can only see great benefits coming from this,” noted Ricketts.

Chairwoman of the JFF Women's Committee Elaine Walker-Brown, a tireless gladiator for the welfare of women's football, could not contain herself after the final whistle.

“I am so happy right now that I can hardly find the words... this is a victory for the many years we fought with limited resources and where a lot of people did not believe in us... but we must thank Cedella Marley and her foundation, who would go out and get the resources for us.

“But all of this is the culmination of hard work and perseverance, which started many years ago, and I just want to thank the coaching staff, all the sports ministers over the years who believed in us, the sponsors and the Institute of Sports. I am so overwhelmed right now, I hope I am not leaving out anybody,” she said, fighting to hold back tears of joy.

Walker-Brown paid tribute to the scholarship programme, which launched many of Jamaica's local players into the US college system.

“So much has gone into having this success today, and I must mention the scholarship programme, which not only improved the girls' football, but improved them as human beings, and without this they may never have achieved [this],” she noted.

Senior Reggae Boyz Coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, who was a key member of Jamaica's historic France '98 team, said yesterday's success took him back to 21 years ago.

“First of all I must congratulate the Girlz on this great achievement, and I must also congratulate the technical staff. Twenty-one years ago the senior Reggae Boyz created history by qualifying for France '98, and now the women have come and followed in our footsteps; what can I say about that. Is it fate or is there a higher force plotting this? Whatever it is, it's just wonderful.

“Words can't express how those young women must be feeling, because I remembered how I felt when we qualified back in 1997... it's a feeling, I can tell you, that it is not easy to explain,” Whitmore told the Observer last evening.

Whitmore, who went on to score Jamaica's goals in a 2-1 victory over Japan in France, said the Girlz's success will serve as fillip for their male counterparts in their quest for a World Cup repeat.

“This success will be a big boost, not only to the women's programme, but the overall programme. And, as head coach of the Boyz, I can tell you that this will be a big motivation for us as we try to repeat our success in France '98,” he stated.

— Sean Williams

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