Girlz committed to build for the long term, says Gilbert
Reggae Girlz Captain Khadija Shaw (centre) holds up a jersey in honour of slain women's player Jeadine Carr. Other members of the team join in the tribute even as the team celebrated their qualification to the Fifa Women's World Cup 2023.

Assistant coach of Jamaica's senior Reggae Girlz Xavier Gilbert reaffirmed the technical staff's commitment on building for the long term to ensure the country continues to have much to celebrate in terms of improved Fifa rankings and World Cup appearances.

Gilbert's comment follows the Girlz recent jump to their highest Fifa ranking ever at 42, which came on the heels of their second-consecutive, third-place finish at the Concacaf Women's Championships and, by extension, World Cup qualification.

But while the move, nine places up from 51st, is all well and good, Gilbert — who along with Interim Head Coach Lorne Donaldson and fellow assistant Ak Lakhani guided the Girlz in their latest line of success — stressed the importance of not becoming complacent and again highlighted the fact there is still much more to be done to get the women's football programme to fit the overall vision of what a powerhouse should be.

"I think it's a wonderful achievement and it's testament to how hard the Girlz have worked for what they wanted and have now achieved.

"Moving up the Fifa rankings is tremendous for Jamaica as we brought a lot of recognition to women's football in the island and also to the Jamaican women who are playing in colleges and elsewhere around the world,"Gilbert said.

"It just goes to show that things are happening despite the little that we have and so with more money and resources the possibilities for Jamaica's women's football would be endless.

"However, we will continue to do what's necessary to ensure continued progress, from a coaching standpoint, to just simply show what we can do on the world stage by becoming a permanent fixture at the World Cup and hopefully our ascension up the ladder will be consistent," he told the Jamaica Observer.

To that aim, Gilbert pointed to the significance of assembling formidable squads as the recruitment and contribution of England-born players, goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer, midfielders Drew Spence, Jade Bailey, Atlanta Primus and winger Paige Bailey-Gayle, in the build up to and during the Concacaf Women's Championship has not been lost on him.

At that tournament which concluded on July 19 in Mexico, the Girlz secured an historic 1-0 win over the hosts nation and defeated Haiti 4-0, which secured them a spot at next year's Fifa Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They also defeated Costa Rica 1-0, but had 0-5 and 0-3 losses against eventual winner United States and runner-up Canada.

"The tournament was result oriented all of our planning was to ensure that we get the required results and we did that. It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the fact that it was the steady improvement of the country's programme that piqued the interest of those England-based players in joining the core group of Girlz and credit must go to the coaches that brought those ladies on board," Gilbert noted.

"I am sure there are other overseas-based players with Jamaican lineage who will be eager to join the programme and hopefully we can get our local league back up and running to include some of those players back in the senior Reggae Girlz pool as we are trying to build for the longer term," he said.

"But we will focus on what we have to work with, there is still a lot of work to be done as we prepare for the World Cup and the Olympic qualifier [against Canada] after that. So what we are going to do now is sort out our playing style and building our chemistry. Hopefully, we can capitalise on the Fifa windows that are available to enable us to do that," the veteran coach stated.

The Girlz, who remain fifth-ranked in Concacaf behind number one-ranked United States and Canada ranked at number seven, couldn't quite overtake Mexico (36th) and Costa Rica (37th), but closed the gap significantly and are now less than 90 points behind both.

However, along with overtaking Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Nigeria, the Jamaicans on 1543.93 points, are in range of potentially breaking into the 30s bracket before the World Cup. 38th-ranked Chinese Taipei (1581.2), 39th-ranked Chile (1580.9), Romania (1574.3) at 40 and 41st-ranked Thailand (1555) are their closest targets.

This for Gilbert should see the Girlz commanding more respect on the international stage, even more so now than they did with their initial World Cup appearance in 2019 in France.

"This is a big boost going forward, I am sure we will be called upon a lot more to get practice games with top nations who previously wouldn't think about playing Jamaica in friendlies. It could also mean we get invited to more tournaments right around the world and teams will want to play us based on our steady progress on the world stage," Gilbert said.

"So again, its important that we capitalise on that as the aim is to play games in every open Fifa window, and add some extra games and camps along the way, if possible," he ended

GILBERT...we will continue to do what's necessary to ensure continued progress (Photos: Observer file)
Sherdon Cowan

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