With the Westfield Matildas less than six months away from their FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ campaign, their clash against Jamaica looms as a pivotal point in progression to the knockout stages.
The Reggae Girlz, as the Jamaica team is known, qualified for their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup™ after finishing third in the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship in October.
That result also made Jamaica the first ever women's football team from the Caribbean to qualify for the big stage, an incredible achievement considering their journey of recent years.
The Westfield Matildas must be wary of a side littered with young, motivated players plying their trade in the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the USA, and in Europe.
The Westfield Matildas take on the Reggae Girlz on June 18, 2019, 9pm local time (June 19, 2019, 5am AEDT) - at Stade des Alpes in Grenoble for their final Group C fixture.
The fact that Jamaica has qualified for a FIFA Women’s World Cup at all is remarkable.
Their first international fixture came only 27 years ago - on April 17, 1991 - against Haiti, and it has been far from plain sailing for the Reggae Girlz since then.
With the team disbanded in 2008 after failing to get out of the group stage in Olympic Qualifying, a lack of funding led the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to bring to a halt the country’s senior women’s football program in 2010.
Things got even worse for the Reggae Girlz when the following year they lost their FIFA ranking due to three years of inactivity.
Seemingly left with nowhere to go, Jamaica’s players were saved when Cedella Marley, daughter of the late reggae singer Bob Marley, revived the program by agreeing to become their ambassador.
The 51-year-old entrepreneur helped the team in an organisational and fundraising capacity, culminating in their qualification for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ after beating Panama 4-2 on penalties in CONCACAF’s third-place play-off.
Jamaica led twice in that game but were pegged back on both occasions.
Khadija Shaw gave the Reggae Girlz the lead on 14 minutes, but Panama restored parity thanks to Natalia Mills’ 74th-minute strike.
With the match going into extra-time, Jody Brown scored after 95 minutes to put the Caribbean side back in front, but Lineth Cedeno scored on 115 minutes to send the game to penalties.
With the shoot-out score standing at 3-2, Dominique Bond-Flasza stepped up to score the winning penalty and send Jamaica to France.
Despite the Westfield Matildas having never previously played Jamaica, national coach Alen Stajcic and national team analyst Kate Cohen will have plenty of footage to trawl through following the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship, which took place in October.
Jamaica recorded two wins and two losses in that competition, before their play-off success over Panama.
In the group stage, a 2-0 defeat by Canada was mitigated by triumphs over Costa Rica (1-0) and Cuba (9-0), before a 6-0 semi-final defeat at the hands of the USA pushed the Reggae Girlz into their crunch third-place play-off clash.
Jamaica’s squad for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship was relatively young, with an average age of just under 23 years.
Sixteen-year-old forward Jody Brown - who picked up the tournament’s ‘best young player’ award after finishing with four goals to her credit - was the squad’s youngest player, while 33-year-old defender Christina Chang was the oldest.
Goalkeeper Sydney Schneider is only 19-years-old but is staking a strong claim as the team’s first-choice No.1. The youngster plays her club football for UNC Wilmington Seahawks in Division 1 of the NCAA.
Dominique Bond-Flasza is one of the team’s brightest talents, currently contracted with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, while midfielder Trudi Carter is contracted with AS Roma in Italy’s Serie A but is yet to make a league appearance for the club.
Sashana Campbell may be tasked with leading Jamaica’s line at the World Cup. The 27-year-old currently plays for Maccabi Kishronot Hadera in the Israeli Women’s Premier League.
Head coach Hue Menzies and his assistant Lorne Donaldson should be applauded for assembling and developing a squad that has climbed 66 places in the FIFA international rankings in the space of 12 months.
The Reggae Girlz were ranked 119th in the world at the end of 2017 and are now 53rd, making them the fifth-highest ranked team in CONCACAF behind regional superpowers USA, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Going into the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship in October, Menzies and Donaldson were employed on a voluntary basis by the JFF, receiving only expenses.
"We want to help give back to the country because of what the country has done for us in football, so we volunteer our time," Menzies told The Jamaica Gleaner in August.
Outside of his role with Jamaica, Menzies has spent five years as executive director at the Florida Kraze Krush Soccer Club in the USA.