Reggae Girlz ready for South Korea challenge
Having quickly found their feet after travel fatigue to East Asia on Tuesday, Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz seem ready to roll as South Korea will provide a severe test of their mettle to kick-start the build-up to next year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The friendly contest scheduled for 3:00 am (Jamaica time) Saturday at Hwaseong Stadium will be the first encounter between the nations and the first games for the 42nd-ranked Girlz since historically qualifying for back-to-back World Cups, following on the heels of France 2019.
They are also set to lock horns against their 18th-ranked host in a second closed-door training match on September 6 at Paju National Football Centre.
While South Korea have already kicked their World Cup preparation in high gear with six wins and three stalemates in 11 fixtures so far this year, the Reggae Girlz — though in assessment mode — will not be shy about adding a scalp from the Asian continent to their records.
The Jamaicans registered seven wins in nine games throughout the Concacaf qualifiers, losing only to top-ranked United States and Canada.
While South Korea’s Head Coach Englishman Colin Bell will be hoping to give the turnout at the 35,000-plus capacity stadium a good result, Jamaica’s Assistant Coach Xavier Gilbert is expecting his team to figure prominently.
“The Girlz are adapting well to the environment, of course you know there is some level of fatigue, but the medical team [Dr Gillian Lawrence and Physiotherapist Saundria Codling] and trainers [Jason Henry and Will Hitzelberger] have been doing what’s necessary to ensure they recover well. So no complaints, all is in place and the ladies are professionals so most of them are used to the long flights, maybe not this long, but flying and training the day after,” Gilbert told the Jamaica Observer from the team’s base at Ramada Encore Pyeongtaek Hotel.
“Our first session was good, the focus was just to get the ladies to stretch their legs and relax their minds and the intensity was great. We wanted to get them buzzing around before we focus on more tactical stuff, so we pretty much did some technical work and some small sided games to get them focused, energised and ready for our first game,” he added ahead of their second session.
Though confident, Gilbert, who is one of three assistants to Head Coach Lorne Donaldson, is by no means grandstanding against a South Korea team that recently held Canada to a goalless stalemate, and which boasts the likes of former Chelsea midfielder and leading scorer Ji So-Yun, who has 65 goals to her name.
Tottenham’s Cho So-hyun and Jeon Ga-eul, the first South Korean player to grace the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the Australian Women’s League, is also a part of the host’s firepower, along with the Brighton and Hove Albion pair of Lee Geum-min and Park Ye-eun.
“They play a similar brand of football to the Japanese and Chinese, and you can imagine that we draw one of those teams in the World Cup, so playing them now will give us a good idea of what to expect and to exploit their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses,” said Gilbert.
But beyond that, the technical staff is also using the contests to assess young talent Kameron Simmonds, Liya Brooks and Maliah Atkins and the returning Giselle Washington, Siobhan Wilson, Shania Hayles and Marlo Sweatman.
The confidence and form of South Korea — bound for a fourth World Cup appearance — Gilbert said is just want he requires to give the team and new players in particular, a proverbial baptism of fire to start.
“This is what we want for our Girlz, a competitive game to start preparation for the World Cup, so it’s going to be a great environment, I think South Korea is a good team, they got some decent results and we feel like we can match up with them,” Gilbert noted.
“We are excited about this opportunity; we get to challenge ourselves against a good team in a good competitive environment, so that is what it’s all about.
“The young players are looking good and I must credit the senior girls they welcomed them and has helped them along and Giselle looks good so we are pleased with that. So we just want to see how they persevere throughout this whole environment here
Squad: Sydney Schneider, Yazmeen Jamieson, Chantelle Swaby, Allyson Swaby, Vyan Sampson, Chinyelu Asher, Kayla McCoy, Atlanta Primus, Marlo Sweatman, Khadija Shaw, Tiernny Wiltshire, Drew Spence, Mireya Grey, Trudi Carter, Olufolasade Adamolekun, Deneisha Blackwood, Tiffany Cameron, Shania Hayles, Kameron Simmonds, Liya Brooks, Siobhan Wilson, Giselle Washington, Maliah Atkins