Girlz coach Gilbert eager to build on momentum from World Cup; upcoming Olympic qualifying fixtures a good start

By August 29, 2023
Reggae Girlz assistant coach Xavier Gilbert with player Deneisha Blackwood. Reggae Girlz assistant coach Xavier Gilbert with player Deneisha Blackwood.

While their recent rise in the Fifa Women's World rankings is all well and good, senior Reggae Girlz assistant coach Xavier Gilbert says the focus of the Lorne Donaldson-led staff is more on initiating the next phase of building the programme to not only ensure continued growth and development, but more importantly, success.

Gilbert, beamed about the fact that the Girlz showed mettle against two of the world's best teams –number-five ranked France and number nine-ranked Brazil –at the recently-concluded World Cup jointly hosted in Australia and New Zealand, and pointed to the significance of maintaining that historic momentum.

The now 37th-ranked Reggae Girlz, held France and Brazil to goalless stalemates and secured their first ever World Cup win with a 1-0 scoreline over Panama to progress from the group stage, before going down 0-1 to now 22nd-ranked Colombia in the Round of 16.

Merely making the Round of 16 was an overachievement by the Jamaicans, as they became the first Caribbean nation –male or female –to play in the knockout stages of the World Cup, since Cuba’s feat in 1938 and that Gilbert believes attributed to their six-place jump on the world table.

By virtue of that, the Girlz also moved to fourth in Concacaf behind United States, who are now ranked at number three in the world, Canada who slipped to 10th and Mexico, who slipped to 36th. The Jamaicans overtook Costa Rica, who slipped to 43rd.

"It is important that we move up the ladder because a rise or fall in the ranking shows that you're either doing something right or failing to get to a particular standard to meet certain objectives. So, it is really good for us and of course we are happy because this move, is a testament of the work we have done over the years, to not only get to this point where we improve our rankings, but more importantly, improve our general performance," Gilbert told SportsMax.tv.

"So, it is important that this momentum isn’t lost, as we have always alluded to, we still have areas that we can improve in and our recent achievement just goes to show that the more we are together and the more continuity we have, the better we can become. We just have to build, we can be better, and we can go higher but the only way to do that, is to build," he added.

Gilbert's sentiments were a slight jab in the direction of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), as he argued that they failed to capitalise on the Fifa match windows ahead of the World Cup, which would have aided in more sustained preparations that might have yielded more positive results.

"We didn't maximise on games in the other windows ahead of the World Cup and I think that would have helped us move a little further," the tactician said.

"I think once we occupy the Fifa windows we will see some more growth and, by extension movements up the ladder and, of course, we would possibly get a lot more invitations to play more friendly games against some top teams to further build our competitive edge," Gilbert reasoned.

"So, again, the move up the ranking is a step in the right direction, it also augurs well for the Caribbean where the standing of women’s football is concerned and I am hoping we can benefit from it by getting more games, as we have to ensure that we utilise each and every Fifa window to build going forward," he continued.

Another positive spinoff from their World Cup exploit is the fact that a number of players, to include, standout defender Allyson Swaby and Trudi Carter, recently landed contracts in two top leagues.

Swaby, 26, signed with Italian club AC Milan until 2026, for what will be her second stint in the women’s Serie A, having previously represented AS Roma. Carter, 28, who also had a stint with AS Roma which was derailed by injury, Mexican club Atletico San Luis.

“Obviously, that again is a good look, this is what we expect, and it is what we want. We want to have our players plying their trade in some of the top leagues around the world as it not only helps to improve their craft, but also the programme because they will bring that experience and knowledge into the national team which will assist in how we perform against certain opponents,” Gilbert shared.

For the next Fifa match window in September, the Girlz will have an important Olympic qualifying playoff assignment against reigning Olympic champions Canada, where they will hope to secure more positive results and, by extension, rewrite the history books.

Victories in the September 22 and 26 fixtures at the National Stadium and Toronto respectively, would see the Jamaicans being the first Caribbean nation to qualify for women's football at the Olympic Games. It would also secure them the second automatic spot for the Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup, alongside United States.

Though cautiously optimistic about the outcome, Gilbert knows it will by no means be easy, especially with the Canadians wanting to make amends for their failed World Cup campaign. 

"Our performance at the World Cup was a testament in itself of the growth and hard work that has been done by our staff and players, but we remain grounded and so we are well aware of that challenge and know what is ahead," he noted.

Still, if the World Cup has proven anything, it's that the gap between the proverbial big wigs and perceived smaller nations, are rapidly closing.

"We certainly respect what they bring to the table, but we expect a lot of ourselves, and we are optimistic in terms of our ability and what we can do with the right level of preparation. I think with the caliber of players we have and the depth we have, we can prove tougher and more competitive than in the past and hopefully we can get favourable results," Gilbert ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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