Jamaica's obstacles are obvious: The lowest-ranked team in the tournament (FIFA rank: 53), the Reggae Girlz are not only playing in their first World Cup -- and facing Brazil in their opening match on June 9 -- they're the first Caribbean nation ever to qualify for a Women's World Cup. The Girlz know they have an uphill battle in France, but they're used to overcoming challenges. As recently as 2014, they didn't have a national team.
How they got here
The Reggae Girlz qualified for the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship, where they upset Panama in a dramatic penalty shootout and secured an historic third-place finish in the tournament. With the win, they became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women's World Cup. And as fate would have it, they qualified for France 2019 on Oct. 17, 2018, the 20th anniversary of the Jamaican men's team reaching their first World Cup in 1998. The next year, the men also made their World Cup debut in France.
Jamaica is known as a nation of speed (see: Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Usain Bolt) and the Reggae Girlz are no exception. They're also a passionate, gritty, hardworking bunch who now possess their missing link: a financial backer with a commitment to fielding a national team.
"As this football now shows, all of that strength, power, discipline and speed, those skills can be harnessed in other ways with good team work, with good discipline in team sports like football," Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith told Reuters late last year. "One of the greatest benefits as a result of the girls qualifying is raising the visibility of women's football in Jamaica and in the Caribbean."
Money Stat: 4
Of the 24 teams that qualified for France 2019, four enter as debutants. Jamaica joins Chile, Scotland and South Africa at the dance for the first time in their country's history.
Four is also the number of goals 16-year-old forward Jody Brown scored at the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship, Jamaica's top scorer at the event. Brown was named best young player at the tournament.
Players to Watch
Brown, when given the opportunity, is a scoring machine. In the all-important match against Panama in the CONCACAF Championship, the teen netted two goals.
Another youngster, 21-year-old Konya Plummer, will captain the squad, and 18-year-old midfielder Olufolasade "Sade" Adamolekum, a high school senior at Fleming Island High School in Florida, is one of several American-born players -- including goalkeeper Nicole McClure, 28 -- who will suit up for the Reggae Girlz this summer.
First, let's rewind: In 2010, the Jamaican Football Federation cut funding for its women's team and disbanded the squad; three years later, they were unranked in the FIFA world rankings. But in 2014, Cedella Marley, daughter of iconic musician and football fan Bob Marley, revitalized the team as its ambassador and sponsor through the Bob Marley Foundation. Just four years later, the Reggae Girlz will make their World Cup debut against Brazil on June 9. Whatever they accomplish in France will be worth celebrating. But if they surprise Brazil (the only team they've faced previously) in the opener, the Reggae Girlz could be on their way to the quarterfinals.
"I'm telling you, the amount of sacrifices we've made -- the staff, the players -- for the country, we're going to change the culture back home," head coach Hue Menzies said after the team's CONCACAF win. "How they perceive women, it's changed. This is way more than football."
The Reggae Girlz head to France with expectations and belief in what's possible. They'll never say they're "just happy to be here," but even one win in Group C will be something to celebrate back home. No matter which team it's against, the win will not only be Jamaica's first against that team, it will forever be etched in history as the country's inaugural Women's World Cup win.