U-20 Girlz seek positive start against Guatemala in World Cup qualifiers

Observer staff reporter

Saturday, February 22, 2020

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Having done all they could in preparation for the Concacaf Women's Under-20 Championship, Jamaica's young Reggae Girlz will begin their hunt for a historic Fifa World Cup qualification against Guatemala in Dominican Republic today.

The Group E curtain-raiser at Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal is scheduled for 12:00 noon Jamaica time, before powerhouse Canada meet El Salvador at 3:00 pm.

While their chance of progressing from group play is highly rated, the Jamaicans' path to qualification will by no means be easy, as their first objective is to clear the Guatemalan hurdle to set the tone for the remainder of the tournament.

Though on paper Canada seem the young Reggae Girlz' biggest threat, Hubert Busby, who is an advisor to the Xavier Gilbert-led coaching staff, is wary that the Central American brand of football to come from Guatemala and El Salvador will also be a challenge.

“We had our last walk-through today [yesterday] before the game; we were able to see some things from the Haiti game that should help us. Obviously, we don't know a whole lot about Guatemala but like most Central and South American teams, we expect them to be technical in keeping the ball and move it around in order to break us down,” Busby told the Jamaica Observer from the team's base yesterday.

“That said, I believe our chances are very good. We have to win two out of the three games to advance and, like I always say, the first one sets the tone, so it is very important that we get a win here tomorrow [today].

“But the team's attitude has been good and the camaraderie has been good. The players have worked extremely hard since we have been in camp and so it is now time to show that off in a game setting,” he added.

That one-week camp in the host nation, Busby believes, played a critical role in creating the ideal platform to work on the tactical and strategic areas with the heavily overseas-based team that has players coming from various clubs and universities in the United States.

“I think we have a good group here, a heavily foreign-based group, and so the camp was very crucial in getting everybody on the same page — and then that game against Haiti offered a little bit more in terms of what we are trying to do and so far, the players have responded positively.

“So, I am excited about the prospects but at the end of the day we just have to go out there and get the job done,” Busby noted.

The Jamaicans will be missing the experience of American-based fleet-footed winger Shayla Smart and midfielder Giselle Washington, as well as Canadian-based attacking midfielder Ebony Clarke, due to injury.

Olufolasade Adamolekun, who was a part of the recently concluded Olympic Qualifiers with the senior Reggae Girlz, will also be absent, after her request for a break was declined by her school.

Still, Busby remains upbeat, pointing out that it provides an opportunity for other players to put their ability on display.

The nippy Jody Brown, Marlee Fray, Gabrielle Gayle, Sherice Clarke, and Nevillegail Able, all of whom were a part of the previous cycle which ended in Trinidad and Tobago in 2018, are expected to assume the mantle.

“We are missing some of our key players for this age group due to injury or school commitment, but it also provides an opportunity for us to look at some other players and also an opportunity for those players, particularly the new ones, to step up. So, they have to be ready to be called upon at any time.

“We have a job to do and we have to just go in there and chart the course towards the task that we [have] come here to accomplish, which is to qualify,” said Busby, who is also the Under-17 Reggae Girlz head coach.

Defending champions Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico will contest Group D, while 2018 beaten finalists United States are set to square off against Honduras, Dominican Republic and Cuba in Group C. Group F comprises Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Cayman Islands.

After round robin play the top three teams in each group will advance to the knockout stage, joining the four qualifiers Guyana, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada.

The March 8 finalists and the third-place play-off winner will qualify for the World Cup to be hosted by Costa Rica and Panama.

This will be the first-ever co-hosting of a Fifa youth tournament, and the second-ever co-hosting of a Fifa tournament after the 2002 Fifa World Cup.

Squad: Nevillegail Able (Waterhouse FC), Tacia Austin (UWI FC), Lacey-Ann Murray (Waterhouse FC), Jody Brown (Montverde Academy), Sherice Clarke (Louisiana State University Eunice), Gabrielle Gayle (Dayton State College), Sydoney Clarke (Monroe University), Tayleur Little (Post University), Malia Atkins (Real Colorado), Jordyn Bartholomew (Concord Fire), Lauren Reid (Real Colorado), Ella Dennis (Alcorn State University), Milan Dewkinandan (Grambling State University), Marlee Fray (University Of Central Florida), Peyton McNamara (Connecticut FC), Chantelle Parker (Oakville Blue Devils FC), Jaden Roberts (Rice University), Gabrielle Scarlett (Weston FC), Alexia Spencer (Richard Bland College Of William and Mary), Ciara Whitely (Mercer University)

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