Under-strength Girlz tackle Panama in crunch Gold Cup qualifier
JAMAICA’S Reggae Girlz’ chances of automatically qualifying for the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup next year could be decided this evening as they battle group leaders Panama at the National Stadium at 7:00.
The scenario for the national senior women’s team is less than ideal as they sit bottom of the three-team group with just a point. To keep their hopes alive of automatic qualification they need to beat the Panamanian women, who are top on six points.
It was felt in some quarters that the more senior members of the team who participated in last summer’s Fifa Women’s World Cup and the Olympic Qualifiers would return for these important games. However, the star names like in form captain Khadijah Shaw, Allyson Swaby and Drew Spence are once again unavailable due to the ongoing impasse with Jamaica Football Federation.
But interim Head Coach Xavier Gilbert is urging the Jamaican public to turn out in their numbers, regardless of the players involved.
“It’s important, and we hope that the fans will come and cheer on the ladies to ensure the extra help, assistance, and motivation will be there. I’m just appealing to Jamaica to come out and support the ladies. They really need the support and, hopefully, we can put on a good showing,” he said.
Gilbert has effectively named the same squad who competed in the October window, with the addition of three newcomers: English-born Lachante Paul of Leicester City; University of Florida defender Njeri Butts; and Sacred Heart University’s Theanna Burnett.
Chinyelu Asher and Marlo Sweatman, two of the most experienced members of the squad, have once again made themselves available and are expected to be named captains of the 25-member squad
The inexperienced Girlz came close to beating their opponents last month at Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City, where the new-look Girlz led after 21 minutes through Ricshya Walker but an own goal from Alika Keene and a late strike from Panama’s Lineth Cedeno saw the Jamaicans lose 2-1.
This time around though, Gilbert is more confident as the team faces a must-win situation.
“The approach is to be positive but to be smart in terms of how we approach it as well, because you don’t want to be too positive then mishap happens and then you’re behind. We’re going to see if we can get something from the game. It’s certainly not going to be easy but, nevertheless, I’m optimistic about our chances and what we can do,” he said.
Though a draw or a defeat at the National Stadium would rule the Reggae Girlz out of an automatic spot at the Concacaf W Gold Cup, they would need to beat Guatemala on Sunday to attempt to qualify through the play-off route — set for February 17 in the USA — prior to the start of the tournament on February 20.