Jamaica’s qualification sparked jubilant scenes of celebration.
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Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to reach the knockout phase of the Women’s World Cup, sending Brazil crashing out of the tournament in the process.
Jamaica had never previously reached the knockout stages of a World Cup – men’s or women’s – prior to the 0-0 draw in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Success for the ‘Reggae Girlz’ has been based on resolute defending which has seen Jamaica become one of just three teams to collect three consecutive clean sheets – Japan and Switzerland are the other two nations.
Jamaica’s manager Lorne Donaldson sprinted onto the pitch before finding himself on the turf after attempting a cartwheel and was then mobbed by his victorious players. There were also tears and a sense of disbelief from the Jamaican squad as the reality of its achievement set in.
Brazil’s players were to a woman disconsolate – this marks the first time since 1995 that the South American side has been eliminated at the group stage of the World Cup.
“I tell you what, this is one of the best feelings I’ve had in my life,” Donaldson told ITV. “Just to see these girls and to see a country like Jamaica be able to do this, it’s unbelievable to just watch it while I’m alive right here standing. I thank the girls for doing this for the country and the country should be proud.
“The resilience, the fight. It’s a war, we know it’s a war, we’re going into a war and we have to be ready and it was a war and we stayed in the battle and we won the war. But we have some more work to do but we’ll just enjoy tonight.
“I did a cartwheel but I don’t know if it was a good one. I need a cup of beer and I’m good. I’m not a big drinker. I will enjoy.”
Marta’s nightmare farewell
Brazil’s Marta, the record scorer in World Cup history and veteran of six tournaments, looked laser-focused on the objective of qualification, passionately singing her country’s national anthem in what was her final World Cup fixture.
Marta’s first start of the 2023 Women’s World Cup was not enough to see her team to victory.
Brazil entered the game knowing it would almost certainly need a win to progress, barring a shock of epic proportions in the simultaneous match between France and Panama.
The atmosphere inside the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium was raucous as the South American fans and locals alike paid tribute to one of the game’s greatest players and her pursuit of the sport’s ultimate prize.
Having been used exclusively as a substitute in the previous games, Marta’s promotion to the starting lineup stood as proof that Brazil coach Pia Sundhage understood the gravity of the situation, and her teammates followed suit.
While As Canarinhas didn’t manage an early breakthrough, they dominated proceedings in the first half – racking up 64% of possession and four shots on target – while Jamaica occasionally threatened with its counterattacking style.
Neither team was able to break the deadlock in Melbourne.
The tension levels in the ground palpably increased in the second half – every forward break viscerally cheered, each tackle roared on with gusto – but neither team could force the issue.
As Brazil poured more and more numbers forward, gaps opened for the ‘Reggae Girlz’ and in particular for star striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw.
Late on, Shaw broke through the Brazil defense for her team’s best chance of the game, only to blast her effort well over the crossbar.
AWolimata Ndiaye of Senegal competes with Milan Pierre-Jerome of Haiti during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Play Off Tournament match between Senegal and Haiti at North Harbour Stadium on February 18, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.
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Then in the 94th minute – the last of the allotted added time – there was an almighty scramble in the six-yard box as the ball rebounded around, bouncing off bodies before looping safely into the hands of Jamaican goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer.
Brazil’s exit is a huge shock. The team breezed through the women’s Copa America without losing in 2022 and had realistic expectations of more glory at this showpiece event.
The draw confirms that Marta’s glittering career will end without a World Cup trophy.
Arguably the finest player of her generation, Marta left the pitch in the 81st minute to adulatory applause, but the stony look on her face seemingly demonstrated her abject disappointment.
“It’s hard to talk at a time like this,” the 37-year-old said after the game. “Not even in my worst nightmares was it the World Cup I dreamed of.”
Despite the obvious pain of elimination, Marta remained upbeat about her team’s future.
“It is only the beginning. The Brazilian people asked for renewal, and there is renewal,” she added.
“I think the only old one here is me, and maybe Tami (Tamires) following. Most of them (teammates) are young girls with enormous talent, who have a great path ahead of them. It’s just the beginning for them. I finish here, but they continue.”
Five-time winners of the men’s World Cup, Brazil’s chase for a maiden women’s title will have to resume in 2027.
France overcome early scare to cruise through
The other game in Group F, billed as a presumed victory for France over Panama, briefly threatened to be anything but that at the Sydney Football Stadium in Australia.
Barely over a minute into the game, the starting team, bench and coaches alike for Las Canaleras were engaged in a mass pile-on after one of the goals of the tournament.
As Marta Cox lined up the free-kick from over 30 meters out, few would have given her a chance of finding the top-left hand corner – but that is exactly what happened as the ball arced perfectly into the net.
Cox, who had been in tears during Panama’s anthem just moments earlier, once again found herself overcome with emotion after scoring her country’s first ever goal at a Women’s World Cup.
Panama’s defense lasted until the 21st minute, when a header from a France corner looked destined for the safe clutches of Yenith Bailey in goal, only for Deysire Salazar’s attempted clearance to rocket into the roof of the net.
France scored four times in a hectic first half.
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Normal service continued just seven minutes later as Kadidiatou Diani scored for France after some excellent play from Vicki Becho on the right wing.
Diani doubled her tally from the penalty spot soon after, effectively ending the game as a contest and confirming Les Bleues’ passage to the next round.
It was 4-1 by half-time after a cross from Léa Le Garrec from the left missed everyone and looped into the net.
Diani completed her hat-trick from the penalty spot soon after the interval as France stepped up the pressure. The 28-year-old becomes the first French woman to score a hat-trick at a World Cup – and just the third French soccer star ever, after Kylian Mbappé and Just Fontaine.
Sweden defeated Argentina to confirm its progress to the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup.
A Panama penalty restored some respectability to the result as Yomira Pinzon swept the ball home at the second attempt – having had the first ruled out for not waiting for the referee’s whistle. The cascade of French goals had done little to dampen Panama’s spirit, with Pinzon joyously dancing in celebration of her goal
A third Panama goal brought more joy, with all the team dancing by the corner flag after Lineth Cedeno took advantage of a fortuitous bounce off the crossbar to nod home into an empty net. When VAR confirmed the goal counted, the players took the opportunity to dance some more.
Becho rounded off the game for France, curling in a lovely finish to make the score 6-3.
France qualifies top of Group G, with Jamaica in second, with both teams waiting to find out who they will face in the round of 16.