On a mission
Junior Girlz depart for U-20 World Cup qualifiers
Shaneil Buckley (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Bermuda during the Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship Group E qualifying contest in Nicaragua. (Photo: Concacaf Media)

A confident-looking young Reggae Girlz squad left the island today for the 2023 Concacaf Women's Under-20 Championship, with two of the team's game-skilled players, Shaneil Buckley and Davia Richards, confident of reaching the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in 2024.

The 12th edition of the 2023 Concacaf Women's U-20 Championship is the annual international youth football championship organised by Concacaf for the women's Under-20 national teams of the North, Central American and Caribbean region.

It is set to take place in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, between May 24 and June 3. The United States of America are the defending champions, having won the 2020 and 2022 tournaments.

Jamaica has been drawn in Group A with Canada and Panama, while Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and the hosts will contest Group B.

RICHARDS...I believe we can make it out of the group stages and top the group, regardless of who is [in our group].

Buckley, who turned 18 on Saturday, had a great schoolgirl season for Excelsior High, netting 45 goals to help them maintain their title. She says the young Reggae Girlz are more than capable of reaching the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup.

"Looking at the group, I believe that once we get Panama and Canada out of the way, we will be fine," Buckley told the Jamaica Observer. "I know the Americans will be tough, but I believe in my team and that we can beat them.

"The mood in the camp is very positive, as everyone's spirits are high and the girls are ready to deliver the goods. One of the most important things was that we had our camp and all the girls were there, and we have been training well, getting to know the new players, and building the chemistry. The belief is there, all we have to do now is go out there and do our thing."

After the round-robin play, the top two teams from each group will advance to the competition's knockout stage, and the top three teams of the tournament will qualify for the World Cup.

Jamaica's Shaneil Buckley (#11) dribbles past an opponent during their Concacaf Women's Under-20 qualifiers contest in Nicaragua.

Matches will be divided across two venues, Estadio Felix Sanchez (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) and Estadio Panamericano (San Cristobal, Dominican Republic).

Richards, who owns the all-time goalscoring record at Excelsior High, with 125 goals, believes the team's agility will be crucial to Jamaica's success in the qualifiers.

"I believe we can make it out of the group stages and top the group, regardless of who is there," she said. "We just have to retain a positive attitude and go out there and play every game like it's our last and we'll see wonderful outcomes.

"We must be smarter than our adversaries. We Jamaicans are known for our pace, and our squad is athletic, so we must go out there and use our speed to outplay them. I know they'll come at us, and we expect it, so we just need to settle on the ball and do our thing and we'll be fine."

Richards predicts a chaotic celebration if Jamaica qualifies.

"It would mean a lot to us as players, but also to the coaches and the country," she said. "We have yet to qualify for a World Cup at the youth level so qualifying would be enormous. The camaraderie in the squad is excellent because most of us come from youth teams (Under-15 and Under-17) that are still playing together, which is why I am confident in the team."

Full Squad:

Andrene Smith — (Excelsior High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Shaneil Buckley — (Excelsior/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Una Moy Lue — (West Bromwich Albion – United Kingdom)

Davia Richards — (Hill College/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Liha Williams — (Garvey Maceo/Cavalier SC – Jamaica)

Taijah Fraser — (Middle Tennessee State University – USA)

Tiny Seaton — (Excelsior High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Kaitlyn Ennis — (FC Prime – USA)

Natoya Atkinson — (Denham Town High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Destiny Powell — (Excelsior High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Akeila Johnson — (Excelsior High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Janiel Mignott — (Excelsior High/Frasziers Whip FC – Jamaica)

Amelia VAN Zanten — (Eclipse Select – USA)

Liya Brooks — (Hawaii Surf – USA)

Avery Johnson — (Charlotte County Day – USA)

Maya Raghunandanan — (Philadelphia Ukrainians Nationals – USA)

Anaiyah Robinson — (Challenger Soccer Club – USA)

Njeri Butts — (University of Florida – USA)

Njeri Lewis — (Tophat Gold – USA)

Katie Oakley — (Georgia Southern University – USA)

BY RUDDY ALLEN Staff reporter ruddya@jamaicaobserver.com

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