Confident Under-20 Girlz face Canada in tough World Cup qualifier
Jamaica's scorer Natoya Atkinson (left) gets by the Honduras pair of Izabella Hernandez (left) and Tiffany Avila during their Concacaf Under-20 Championship qualifying fixture in Nicaragua.(Photo: Concacaf Media)

Jamaica's young Reggae Girlz will begin their quest for a possible position in the FIFA Women's Under-20 World Cup next year when they face superpower Canada in today's Concacaf Women's Under-20 Championship, with Head Coach Hugh Bradford confident of getting a good start from the first ball.

The game is scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm (Jamaica time) at the Estadio Felix Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In other Group A matchups, the defending champions the USA will face Panama at the same location at 6:00 pm.

While conceding that this is a difficult group, Bradford stated that it is critical for his team — the young Reggae Girlz — hit the ground running.

"It is always important to start the Concacaf Women's Under-20 Championship with a win," Bradford told the Jamaica Observer.

Shaneil Buckley (right) of Jamaica and Jemery Myvett of Guatemala compete for the ball during the Concacaf Under-20 Women´s Championship match at Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, on February 26, 2022. (Photo: Concacaf)

"It is the toughest group, but training for the girls has gone well. I mean, the players have been working hard, and they [players] have a great attitude about the opportunity to represent Jamaica at the championship. Let's hope that everything goes well for us," the coach added.

The young Girlz topped their qualifying group by defeating Anguilla 6-0, Bermuda 2-0, and Honduras 2-0.

Bradford made eight changes to that roster in order to improve the team's prospects of qualifying. These changes reflect his goal to win one of the three World Cup slots available.

Amelia Van Zanten, sister of senior Reggae Girlz winger Kalyssa "Kiki" Van Zanten, and West Bromwich Albion's Una Moy Lue are among the newcomers to the team. Furthermore, Canadian-born Taijah Fraser, as well as American-born athletes Kaitlyn Ennis, Anaiyah Robinson, Njeri Butts, and Njeri Lewis, have piqued Bradford's interest.

Jamaica's Maya Raghunandanan (left) tries to escape the attention of Allison Pastrana of Honduras during their Concacaf Under-20 Championship qualifying fixture in Nicaragua recently.(Photo: Concacaf Media)

Jamaica will then face the United States on Friday, May 26 at 5:00 pm, before facing Panama on Sunday, May 28 at 2:00 pm. Meanwhile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and the host country, the Dominican Republic, will compete in Group B.

"I don't know anything about them [the other teams in the group] other than they are all great. At this stage, everyone will be tough, but if we are to make it, we have to play to our game plan. Our plan is to play our style of possession. I mean, keep the ball, hold onto possession, and play to our strengths," Bradford explained.

Shaneil Buckley, one of the team's skilled players, believes the youthful Reggae Girlz can defeat Canada.

"We've played and drawn with Canada before. That was at the Under-17 level, so we are familiar with some of the girls and their playing style. I believe in myself, and I believe in the team to get the job done," Buckley told the Observer.

BRADFORD...the players have been working hard, and they have a great attitude about the opportunity to represent Jamaica at the championship.

Following round-robin play, the top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage of the competition, and the tournament's top-three finishers will advance to represent the region in the 2024 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, the host of which has yet to be determined.

Jamaica's best finish in the Concacaf Women's Championship during their 12 appearances was fourth in 2006.

Full Squad: Andrene Smith, Shaneil Buckley, Una Moy Lue, Davia Richards, Liha Williams, Taijah Fraser, Tiny Seaton, Kaitlyn Ennis, Natoya Atkinson, Destiny Powell, Akeila Johnson, Janiel Mignott, Amelia Van Zanten, Liya Brooks, Avery Johnson, Maya Raghunandanan, Anaiyah Robinson, Njeri Butts, Njeri Lewis, Katie Oakley.

BY RUDDY ALLEN Staff reporter

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