Delayed World Cup qualifiers buy time for Reggae Girlz preparation

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


The delayed start to the Concacaf Women's World Cup Qualifiers could very well be a blessing in disguise for Hubert Busby and his senior Reggae Girlz to get in some much-needed preparation as they hunt a second berth to the global showpiece.

Despite the upcoming friendly against Costa Rica later this month, courtesy of Cedella Marley's Football is Freedom initiative, Busby's side would have still been caught in a race against time to be adequately prepared for the qualifiers, had it not been pushed back from next month to February 2022.

Concacaf, football's governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, decided to delay the start of the qualifiers due to the continued travel restrictions brought about by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Girlz have seen very little action since the Olympic qualifiers in February last year. In fact, the two games in the US Soccer Summer Series in June against the world champions United States and 38th-ranked African champions Nigeria represent their only outings so far this year.

And, while most of the players are engaged in top leagues in and around Europe in particular, they haven't been together enough to achieve the intended level of cohesiveness required to ensure competitiveness at the business end of the qualifiers.

Simply put, the Girlz desperately needed the time to get some sufficient work in and Busby, who was the goalkeeper coach in the Hue Menzies-led staff when the team graced the World Cup finals stage in France 2019, is hoping to make the most of the time.

“The plans have obviously changed due to the fact that the qualifiers have been pushed back, so as of right now we will go back to focusing on preparing and continue to work on our playing principles,” Busby told the Jamaica Observer.

“We also will be evaluating players and the Costa Rica game provides another opportunity for players to come together and have a good match against them and then we will turn our focus to February,” he added.

The 51st-ranked Reggae Girlz will enter the first phase of the revamped Concacaf Women's Championship — which now serves as a qualifier for both the World Cup and Olympic Games — as top seed in Group C, where they are set to face Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Grenada, and Cayman Islands.

Still, Busby is leaving nothing to chance against their Caribbean opponents.

“As I have often said, these groups are always a lot trickier than they look, so we need to focus on ourselves and do what we need to do to ensure that we progress.

“So, heading into the World Cup qualifiers, we wanted to make sure we played quality opposition, it was always the plan, and still is the plan to play teams ranked ahead of us to best prepare us,” said Busby.

He continued: “So Costa Rica is a great game, we respect everything they have done and continue to do in their women's programme, and obviously it will be a great test and a firm challenge for us in a few weeks.

“We have already engaged the players in the last couple of weeks and now we are just working through the logistics, and so the 23 or 24 player list for the game and camp will become public in the next day or so.”

The first phase of the qualifying cycle include 30 Concacaf nations — ranked three and below in the Fifa women's ranking as of July 2021 — divided into six groups of five. The February and April Fifa Women's match windows will be used for those games.

After group stage play, in which each nation will play two matches at home and two away, the top finisher in each of the groups will advance to the Women's Championship, joining the top two-ranked teams (United States and Canada), who received byes.

“As you already know, most of our ladies are in clubs now all across the world, so they are in environments training week in and week out — which is vitally important for the team heading into World Cup qualifiers

“But, at the same time, what we want is to find our identity in terms of our playing style and chemistry for the women's programme and this is also equally important,” the former national representative reasoned.

“So, again, the Football is Freedom initiative and, by extension, the game against Costa Rica is a great opportunity for us, and we must express our gratitude to ambassador Cedella Marley, she has been a godsend for us in the programme,” Busby noted.

For the Women's Championship, USA, Canada, and the six group winners from the qualifiers will be divided into two groups of four teams each.

After group stage play, the top two finishers in each group will qualify for the competition's semi-finals and guarantee their place in the 2023 Fifa Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, both group stage third-place finishers will advance to a Fifa Women's World Cup Intercontinental play-off.