Reggae Girlz fired up about Nigeria test after hiatus

Thursday, June 10, 2021


Jamaica's senior Reggae Girlz will officially kick-start preparations for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers today when they square off against African flag-bearers Nigeria in the US Soccer 2021 Women's National Team (WNT) Summer Series presented by AT&T 5G.

Game time is 4:30 pm at the BBVA Stadium in Houston, Texas.

The contest, which signals a return to action for the Reggae Girlz since the Olympic Qualifiers in February last year, also marks the first meeting between both teams, and Girlz coach Hubert Busby is excited about the prospects.

In fact, the tactician, whose 23-member squad is a blend of youth and experience, believes testing their mettle against the African champions, ranked 38th in the world, will give a good indicator of what is required to perfect technical and tactical plans ahead of the crucial qualifiers scheduled for later in the year.

“Obviously we are excited and grateful for the opportunity to play again, and the players are also excited and looking forward to it. The sessions we have had so far were really good and some of the things we are looking to implement are also on point. We just need to go out there and reflect that on the field.

“They [Nigeria] are very similar to us, obviously they have a lot of qualities in terms of their athleticism and aggression, and they have had a lot more experience in terms of the world stage and going to consecutive World Cup [tournaments]. So it is going to be a tough clash, especially the physical match-ups with some of the dangerous players they have,” Busby told the Jamaica Observer.

“The first few minutes of the game is going to be a little bit new for us because it will be the first time we are playing a game in 15 months, but once we settle in I think we will be okay,” he added.

Despite being without influential captain and lethal striker, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who recently copped the Golden Boot for the Women's League in France, Busby pointed out that his 51st-ranked Girlz possess enough firepower to give a good account on their return.

“I have been really pleased with how the players have responded since coming together. It hasn't been easy going through and adjusting to the different COVID protocols, but they have not allowed it to affect them; they have shown a mature attitude towards this environment, which is good, because everyone will be required to play a role in the outcome of this game,” Busby reasoned.

“Khadija Shaw is an elite striker and one of the best in the world, but we have more than enough players collectively to do the job. So we are not going to put any pressure on any one person to score goals, just like we don't pressure Bunny to score goals. It's a collective effort to create chances and score goals,” he noted.

Though they were yet to decide on a starting team — as they had a training session scheduled for late yesterday evening at the match venue — the former national goalkeeper hinted that the starting squad will be led by Konya Plummer or Allyson Swaby, in Shaw's absence and could include some new faces.

Rebecca Spencer, Drew Spence, Shania Hayles, Mikayla Dayes, and Satara Murray are the new players to the team, while former Arsenal defender Vyan Simpson, who camped with the Girlz ahead of their historic World Cup appearance, makes a return.

Meanwhile, Under-20 representatives Peyton McNamara and Gabrielle Gayle are transitioning to the senior set-up.

Still, one expects the line-up to be dominated by a few of the usual suspects; namely, goaltender Sydney Schneider, Chantelle Swaby, Plummer, Allyson Swaby, Jody Brown, Deneisha Blackwood, and Olufolasade Adamolekun, whose father is Nigerian.

“The new players who came through have done really well. So tomorrow [today] is an opportunity for them to go out there and express themselves. So we are probably going to have a mix of youth and experience for both games because, again, these games are all about preparing for the qualifiers,” Busby shared.

“But we still want to play to our strengths; we want to play through the lines, remain compact, and making sure we win the first and second balls in the game. If we do that then we give ourselves a chance to not only express ourselves as the aggressor but also enjoy ourselves,” he ended.