BY CASSIDY HETTESHEIMER
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Jamaica’s third consecutive shutout — a 0-0 draw against Brazil on Wednesday — sent the Reggae Girlz through to the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup for the first time.
Finishing second in Group F, Jamaica didn’t concede a goal against France and Brazil or in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Jamaicans joined Switzerland and Japan as the only teams to keep clean sheets in all three group-stage games in the tournament being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
“We knew coming into the tournament that we were facing very tough opposition, and attacking quality was at the highest level, so we knew defensively we had to be sound,” Jamaica midfielder Atlanta Primus said. “Coming out with two clean sheets against top 10 sides, we’re very happy with that.”
The team’s string of shutouts in its second World Cup appearance contrasts its debut in the 2019, when the Reggae Girlz conceded 12 goals in three games.
“It was a proverbial ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome,” Jamaica head coach Lorne Donaldson said of the 2019 campaign. “We were a very young team, and I think we were happy to be there.”
This time around, Donaldson said, the target was: “We need to get out of our group.”
Jamaica goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer, who made her debuted for the Reggae Girlz in 2021 after competing in England’s youth programs, is the oldest player on the roster at age 32.
She made eight saves against Brazil, including shots from Marta — the tournament’s all-time leading scorer — in the fifth and 11th minutes.
“If the team is defending well, then I’ve got full confidence in everyone that we can keep a clean sheet, and I have confidence in myself too,” Spencer said. “We can take the momentum on. If you don’t concede goals, you can’t lose.”
Needing a win to advance to the round of 16, Brazil dominated possession and had 18 shots to three from Jamaica. But defending deep with numbers in the box, staying organized and looking to hold up play on the counter attack allowed the Reggae Girlz to stall the Brazilian attack.
“They’ve got a lot of flair. They’ve got a lot of players that are world-class players,” Spencer said. “Coming up against that is really tough, but as a group of players, we really believe in ourselves.”
The Reggae Girlz have qualified for the knockout stage amid a public fundraising effort to support the team at the World Cup, and players posting a statement calling on the Jamaican Football Federation to provide better pay, facilities and resources.
“The better we do, the more pressure it creates,” Spencer said. “We hope that they’re looking at us and taking us seriously now, and then they can give us what we deserve.”
Jamaica will next play the winner of Group H — likely Germany or Colombia — on Tuesday at Melbourne, Australia.
Cassidy Hettesheimer is a student at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.