Football

Fifa World Cup 2019: Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz

LockerRoom has partnered with The Guardian and news outlets across the globe to deliver comprehensive coverage of the 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup. Leading up to kick off on June 8, we will tell you all you need to know about all 24 teams competing for women's football's biggest prize.

Sherdon Cowan previews Jamaica.

Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, who are ranked at No. 53 in the world, are set to make their historic bow at the Women’s World Cup in France as the first ever Caribbean team to appear at the finals.

That achievement came by way of their momentous third-place finish in the Concacaf Women’s Championship after a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout win over Panama in October. The Reggae Girlz lost only two games (2-0 against Canada and 6-0 against the United States) during the entire qualifying period, scoring 53 goals and conceding 14. They were led by the talismanic striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who ended the qualifiers with 19 goals.

The team travelling to France includes several American and English-born players with Jamaican heritage, and is virtually the same that competed in the qualifiers, but the coach, Hue Menzies, has been able to unearth some new players before this summer’s tournament.

Menzies and his players have taken a liking to the 4-3-3 formation, as they bank on their speed and athleticism to open up opposing defences, particularly from the wide areas. Shaw, as always, will be the focal point in the attacking trio and could make a difference against their more illustrious Group C opponents if is she is able to get on the ball close enough to goal.

As earlier mentioned, the Reggae Girlz appear more effective when playing on the break using their speed, and the return of the forward Trudi Carter from injury should add further impetus. The defence showed its strength in the qualifiers and, while they often play deep against tougher opponents, the centre-backs sometimes step up in an attempt to pressure the ball high and support the midfield’s attempt to gain possession.

Strong performances can be expected from the captain, Konya Plummer, and her fellow defender Allyson Swaby. They are both strong in the air and resolute on the ground (although, ultimately, the defensive work has always been a group effort with everyone putting in full effort and working together).

All in all, Jamaica are one of the biggest underdogs at the World Cup but they are certainly not going to the tournament accepting defeat. And it is important to never underestimate the power of a group ready to put everything on the line, not just for themselves but for the people of Jamaica.

The coach

Hue Menzies was born in England and grew up in Jamaica before moving to the US in 1980, where he continued to improve his football knowledge. He now has more than 30 years of coaching experience and holds a US soccer national A coaching licence and national youth coaching licence. Additionally, he has 15 years of Olympic development coaching experience at the national, state and regional levels.

He leads a team that has always been passionate about shaping the entire football structure in Jamaica since being introduced to the national women’s programme on the recommendation of ambassador for Jamaica’s women’s football, Cedella Marley, in 2014. Despite the lack of resources in Jamaica, Menzies achieved the historic feat of making the Reggae Girlz the first Caribbean team to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.

Star player

Khadija “Bunny” Shaw is a 5ft 11in (1.8m) player whose physicality and speed of thought has allowed her to have success from a young age. In fact, she was so good from such a young age that she played for Jamaica’s U15, U17 and U20 teams simultaneously since the age of 14. She made her debut for the senior women’s national team on 23 August 2015, scoring once in a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic.

Since then, the 22-year-old has been a force to reckon with and she already heads the Reggae Girlz all-time charts with 26 goals in 30 caps at the time of writing. In 2018, Shaw was the first female player to be named the Guardian Footballer of the Year, an award given to a footballer “who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty”.

She is also the first football player from Jamaica and the Caribbean to sign with Nike. Shaw has studied at Eastern Florida State College and University of Tennessee and is expected to turn professional this summer.

Did you know?

Christina Chang is the oldest player in the Reggae Girlz team at 33 years of age. The US-born defender, who is in the best shape of her life, readily takes time away from her busy schedule as an air traffic controller at Miami international airport to parade her skills.

So passionate and dedicated is Chang to the Jamaican cause that she decided to put on hold her plans to start a family in order to play at a World Cup. She has booked her honeymoon for after the tournament in France.

Brief history of women’s football in Jamaica

Women’s football in Jamaica came to life in 1991 when the Reggae Girlz played their first international match against Haiti, losing 1–0. Since then, they have become one of the top women’s national football teams in the region, along with Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti, and currently boast their highest ever Fifa ranking at 53.

They have made six appearances at the Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup since 2002 with their best finish coming in 2018 when they finished third (which led to them qualifying for the World Cup in France).

There have been bumps on the road however and eight years ago the women’s programme as well as the women’s Olympic programme were disbanded by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) due to lack of funding, which saw the country being taken off the Fifa women’s world rankings due to after three years of inactivity.

The program was restarted in 2014 with the support of Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley. Marley’s robust fundraising efforts eventually enabled the Reggae Girlz to achieve their historic World Cup qualification.

Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?

Some will already have heard about the 17-year-old sensation Jody Brown. The diminutive player may be shy in nature but once she has a ball at her feet her true personality comes to light. Brown is one of only a few players who have so far represented the country at all levels — U15, U17, U20 and now the senior Reggae Girlz team. And she has done so with distinction.

She had by the time of writing made 10 appearances for the senior team, scoring seven goals. Her impressive performances at the Concacaf women’s championships earned her the best young player of the tournament awards.

What is the realistic aim for Jamaica in France and why?

While it is not impossible for the Jamaica to get out of Group C and into the last 16, they face a daunting task of doing so. As such, the realistic aim for the team known for its determination and spirit is to give off its best to secure at least one victory in this their first outing at a Fifa Women’s World Cup to do themselves and country proud. 

Annual budget for the women’s national team (compared to men’s):

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Registered female players:

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Sherdon Cowan writes for the Jamaica Observer. Follow him here on Twitter.

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