Wait and see: Gilbert backs Girlz to bounce back in Gold Cup qualifying, but coaching staff uncertain about contract extension

By September 27, 2023
Assistant coach Xavier Gilbert (inset) and Reggae Girlz. Assistant coach Xavier Gilbert (inset) and Reggae Girlz. file

With their Concacaf Olympic qualifying chapter now closed, as they failed to rewrite the history books, Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz and coaching staff will not only have to pick up the pieces, but also come up with new ideas to ensure the programme's continued progress, as they now shift focus to the Gold Cup qualifying campaign.

The Girlz, who were seeking to become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for women's football at the Olympic Games, suffered a 1-4 aggregate defeat to reigning Olympic champions Canada after 0-2 and 1-2 losses across the two-leg home-and-away playoff.

Those victories ensured Canada the second automatic spot for both the Olympic Games and Gold Cup respectively, joining United States, who were already qualified by virtue of topping last year's Concacaf Women’s Championships in Mexico. 

For the Girlz it is back to the proverbial drawing board with much to contemplate, as their defence, particularly on the left, and midfield in the playoff fixtures, were a shadow of what it was when they held Brazil and France to goalless stalemates at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia.

While they are expecting the Girlz to bounce back against Panama and Guatemala next month, assistant coach Xavier Gilbert says it is hard for the coaching staff to really think too far ahead, as uncertainty surrounds the renewal of their contracts which expire on Saturday. 

"It's difficult to say what our plans are going forward. Our contract ends on the 30th of September, and we are yet to hear anything from the Jamaica Football Federation, so we don't know what will happen after this. We don't know if we will be the staff in charge of the unit, but it's still a good unit and I think they are going to do well against those opposition next month regardless," Gilbert told SportsMax.tv.

Reflecting on the performances against Canada, Gilbert, though admitting their shortcomings in certain areas, credited the Girlz for the fight shown, particularly in Tuesday's second-leg at a sold-out BMO Field in Toronto. 

"I think the performance wasn't bad. We wanted to score at least one before the half-time break and we got that go-ahead goal. Unfortunately, we conceded, and I think that set us back again, but it was a good effort, and it just goes to show how much we are growing in the region and on the world stage.

"So, I have to give the Girlz credit, they held their own in a hostile environment…yes, there were some lapses in concentration and there was an overload on the left side again and when you make certain errors you pay the price, especially against quality opposition and that's what happened last night," Gilbert reasoned.

"I don't think the issue is only at the left back because we know what they (Canada) were doing and we should have prevented that. The Canadian team did well the way they pulled our left back out and exploited the spaces behind. But we have to give more help and support in in that area and then we also have to be a little bit more positive on that side too, so that we can push the overlap and get forward more often," he added.

On that note, Gilbert revealed that the players accepted responsibility for the lukewarm performance and, by extension, not being able to give the country something more to celebrate.

“They are disappointed because they really wanted to make the country proud. Some of them even broke down in tears after the game, but we just have to pick ourselves up and go again,” Gilbert shared.

He continued: “Like I said, we did well in terms of where we are on the world stage right now because playing against Canada, everybody would have expected at least 4-0, as those are the defeats that we used to get against these oppositions. So I believe we are now closing the gap and things are changing and those are the positives that we have to take from this.

“We are getting closer and closer because again, no one would have thought, even years gone by and probably even now, that we would have been so competitive against Canada, who are the defending Olympic champions, so let’s not forget that.”

Finally, Gilbert pointed out that should the Lorne Donaldson-led remain in charge of the programme, they will be aiming to add more players to the pool, to not only remedy their defensive and midfield concerns, but also to ensure continuity.

“For sure, we want to continue on the same path widen the pool of players, especially in certain areas that we think we need it and continue to give other players opportunities so that we can have a wider pool to select from and make it more competitive in every position,” he ended.

Sherdon Cowan

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

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