Reggae Girlz's historic World Cup campaign hailed as fillip for women's football
Jamaica defender Tiernny Wiltshire (left) comes under pressure from Colombia forward Linda Caicedo during their Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup round of 16 match at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium in Melbourne on Tuesday. Colombia won 1-0 to advance to the quarter-finals. (Photo: AFP)

Jamaica's fairy-tale run at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup came to an end on Tuesday with a 0-1 defeat to Colombia, and Head Coach Lorne Donaldson believes the Reggae Girlz should now build on this foundation in order to advance to the next level in women's football.

The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium in Australia, where the Reggae Girlz denied the great Brazil in a goalless draw on August 2 to advance to the round of 16, was the scene of their exit in a cruel twist of fate.

Captain Catalina Usme of Colombia latched on to a fantastic long ball from Ana Guzman and comfortably scored from close range in the 51st minute to send the Jamaicans packing. Take nothing away from Usme's spectacular strike, but Jamaican defender Deneisha Blackwood's misjudgement of the aerial ball caused the Reggae Girlz' defence to be breached for the first time in this tournament, as they conceded their first goal after five hours and 22 minutes on the field.

The 43rd-ranked Jamaicans, by making it to the round of 16, became the first Caribbean country male or female to play in the knockout stages of the World Cup since Cuba in 1938.

Jamaica defender Tiernny Wiltshire reacts at the end of the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup round of 16 football against Colombia at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Monday. Colombia won 1-0. (Photo: AFP)

While ending their incredible run is always a disappointment, Donaldson stated that the Reggae Girlz should now be able to capitalise on their triumphs to strengthen the programme going forward.

"First of all, let's give Colombia credit as they were better than us tonight, and so I have to give them that credit. For us coming in the tournament with no games, I feel very happy for the players that they could perform at this level without getting adequate games to play and so I am very pleased with them. They gave it everything, [but] tonight we weren't very good, but that's football and they should be very proud of themselves," Donaldson said.

"I think this is something that we can build on as a country and just realise that we can do much better, but overall it was a great time, it was a fun time and I think we have learnt a lot. I think we have learnt a lot about our Diaspora and all the support we got from all over the world, and I think it is a great learning experience that we can use to propel ourselves to the next level in women's football," the tactician further added.

Playing in front of a sell-out crowd of 27,706 was always going to be nerve-racking for both teams, given Jamaica nor Colombia had ever made it to the World Cup quarter-finals. As a result, it came as no surprise that scoring chances were limited.

Australian referee Kate Jacewicz (centre) speaks with Jamaica defender Chantelle Swaby (left) and Colombia forward Catalina Usme.

Attackers on either side of the field made bad decisions when given chances to shoot at goal, and it was fitting that the first half ended at 0-0.

With just six minutes into the resumption, a delightful long ball from Guzman to switch the point of attack deceived Blackwood, who decided to step too early and was beaten by the flight, allowing Usme, 33, to beat Rebecca Spencer in goal for the Jamaicans for the first time this tournament.

That goal served as a wake-up call for Jamaicans, who needed to inject some tempo into the game in order to regain control. The Reggae Girlz had two fantastic chances to draw level with Colombia, but their finishing on both occasions fell short.

Blackwood's free kick found Jody Brown at the far post in the 53rd minute, but the striker blasted her header into the base of the upright. Tiffany Cameron's cross landed sweetly for Drew Spence, whose header sailed marginally wide of the right upright in the 82nd minute.

Colombia defender Ana Guzman fights for the ball with Jamaica forward Jody Brown during the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup round of 16 match.

On the bench, Donaldson tried his hardest by introducing 19-year-old World Cup rookie Kameron Simmonds and experienced Cheyna Matthews in attack, but the move was futile.

Colombia nearly scored their second in the 85th minute when a threatening cross from Usme sank well enough for Leicy Santos to apply a timely diving header that had Spencer beat, but the ball found the upright instead. Finally, one team had to pass and another had to return home. It wasn't for the Jamaicans this time.

"I think we started out well in the first 10 minutes, after that, we just went into a different direction. To me, it wasn't a great performance. I mean, we worked hard and that was one thing and I think the Colombians were better than us; technically they were better than us.

"So, we didn't execute stuff that we normally could and so that makes it tough and when we can't hold the ball up top and connect, it is going to be some long, long days. I think we just couldn't find the game and connect," Donaldson said.

Captain Khadija "Bunny" Shaw said that it was a great run by the Reggae Girlz and the plan is just to move forward.

"We came out and we held our own. We played hard, but it's football, you win some and you lose some. We just have to lift our heads high [and] be proud of ourselves, and as you can see the gap is closing between the small islands and the bigger countries. This just goes to show that women's football is growing and we have to keep moving forward and keep pushing it and, hopefully, we can get it as far as possible," she stated.

The Jamaicans will next turn their focus to the upcoming Olympic qualifying play-off fixtures against Canada in September.

Teams: Jamaica Rebecca Spencer, Allyson Swaby, Chantelle Swaby, Deneisha Blackwood, Tiernny Wiltshire (Cheyna Matthews 83rd), Drew Spence, Vyan Sampson (Peyton McNamara 79th), Jody Brown (Kameron Simmonds 83rd), Trudi Carter (Tiffany Cameron 67th), Kalyssa Van Zanten (Atlanta Primus 46th), Khadija Shaw

Subs not used: Sydney Schneider, Liya Brooks, Havana Solaun, Paige Bailey-Gayle, Solai Washington, Konya Plummer, Kayla McKenna

Booked: C Swaby (41st), Spence (45+1)

Colombia Catalina Perez, Daniela Arias, Diana Ospina, Lorena Bedoya, Mayra Ramirez, Leicy Santos (Daniela Montoya 87th), Catalina Usme (Marcela Restrepo 90+2), Ana Guzman, Carolina Arias, Linda Caicedo, Jorelyn Carabali

Subs not used: Sandra Sepulveda, Natalia Giraldo, Camila Reyes, Angela Baron, Lady Andrade, Monica Ramos, Ivonne Chacon, Daniela Caracas, Elexa Bahr

Booked: D Arias (70th)

Referee: Kate Jacewicz (AUS)

Assistant referees: Kyoungmin Kim (KOR); Joanna Charaktis (AUS)

Fourth official: Marta Huerta (ESP)

BY RUDDY ALLEN Staff reporter ruddya@jamaicaobserver.com

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