USA defeated Canada to win the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in Frisco, Texas, but the third-place match on Wednesday had significant consequences. Led by Bunny Shaw, Jamaica’s women’s national football team, nicknamed the “Reggae Girlz,” defeated Panama 4-2 in a shootout to secure their first-ever World Cup invitation.
With the victory over Panama, Jamaica also made history as the first Caribbean nation to advance to a Women’s World Cup.
The next World Cup will take place in France in the summer of 2019. The US women’s team (USWNT) is the defending champion and odds-on favorite to win the World Cup.
Two Big Upsets
The final four at 2018 CONCACAF was expected to be USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Canada. However, Panama and Jamaica played the role of the party crashers. Panama upset Mexico 1-0 and Jamaica took down Costa Rica.
In the semifinals, Canada defeated Panama and the Jamaica lost to the US. That set up a finals match between the US and Canada, but also set the stage for a historic third-place match considering neither Panama, nor Jamaica had qualified for the World Cup before.
Reggae Girlz Jammin’
Jamaica has a long-standing relationship with track and field and cricket, so soccer was never the country’s favorite sport.The women’s soccer team was nonexistent in 2010 after the Jamaican Football Federation (JFF) cut funding to its women’s football team.
The Jamaican women’s soccer team is sponsored by Cedella Marley, the daughter of musician Bob Marley. In 2014, Marley donated a significant amount of time and money into developing women’s soccer in Jamaica. Cedella Marley became the team’s official ambassador.
Jamaica Football Rising
Jamaica was ranked 119th by FIFA only a year earlier. The team made large strides in the last 12 months. The Reggae Girlz came into the tournament ranked 64th, but still a long shot at making the World Cup.
“We’re trying to create some history,” said Jamaica coach Hue Menzies.
In two rounds of qualifiers in the Caribbean, Jamaica has been unstoppable on offense scoring 41 goals while the defense shut everyone down and goaltender Sydney Schneider only allowed 4 goals.
At the CONCACAF group stage, Jamaica went 2-1. They held their own against Canada in a 2-0 loss. They crushed Cuba 9-0.
The big win occurred against Costa Rica with a 1-nil shutout. The win against Las Ticas vaulted Jamaica into the semi-finals against the US team.
In the semi-finals, Jamaica lost to USWNT 6-0. Despite not being able to play in the finals, Jamaica had a chance to qualify for the World Cup with a victory in the consolation game.
Historic Third-Place Match
Panama and the Reggae Girlz met in the consolation match at CONCACAF with the winner earning a berth into the World Cup. Both teams were seeking their first World Cup invitation.
The game was tied at the end of regulation 2-2, but Jamaica won 4-2 in penalty kicks. Defender Dominique Bond-Flasza, who played soccer for the University of Washington, scored the decisive penalty shot that sealed the win.
“The Reggae Girlz have held their own against some of the best, mainly on raw talent and passion for the sport,” Cedella Marley said after the win. “We still have a lot to prove. A lot of people make history but the only way to keep our relevance is to keep winning. We don’t compete to qualify, we compete to win.”
“Big up to Cedella Marley for putting her neck on the line for us,” head coach Hue Menzie added.
It’s the Bunny Shaw Show
Khadija “Bunny” Shaw plays collegiate soccer at Tennessee. The 21-year old, 5’11” striker is one of the leaders of the Reggae Girlz. She adds versatility and plays multiple positions such as midfield.
“You have to learn to balance,” Shaw said in a post-game press conference. “You’ve gotta give your all every time you go out on the field. For both my college and my country. Once I do that, I know that I’ll have a lot of success.”
The exposure against the USWNT and in the World Cup will boost Shaw’s prospects when she decides to pursue a professional career.
Bunny Shaw scored 18 goals for Jamaica going into the semi-finals. In the match against Panama, Shaw scored the first goal of the game.
Another Shot for Panama?
Panama went the deepest they’ve ever gone in CONCACAF by reaching the final four for the first time. The team’s run was fueled by stifling defense with shutouts against Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago during the group stage.
When the last Women’s World Cup was held in 2016, Panama was ranked 141st in the world. That’s what made Panama’s stunning upset of Mexico so special. The win against Mexico was propelled by amazing play from 17-year old goalie Yenith Bailey.
Despite the loss to Jamaica, Panama still has a shot at a World Cup berth.
They face Argentina in a two-leg playoff next month. The winner will advance to the World Cup.