Reggae Girlz upbeat over progress

Jamaica is exuding confidence ahead of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship to be staged in the Cayman Islands next month.

The Reggae Girlz are focused on going one better than their younger compatriots, who lost to Canada in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship last month, and they want to qualify for next August’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Despite Jamaica being drawn into tough Group A, which also consists of perennial powerhouse United States, Costa Rica and Guatemala, head coach Xavier Gilbert remains upbeat for the tournament at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex from Jan. 9-19.

“I think we have a good chance of qualifying based on the talent and experience in the team,” he said. “We have always been a peripheral team, lying in fourth or fifth in CONCACAF, so with that, plus our talent pool, I think we stand a very good chance of advancing to the top three.”

Jamaica demonstrated their credentials by capturing the Caribbean title at home in Kingston with a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago two months ago.

“These girls are more experienced as they have played at the CONCACAF level before,” Gilbert said. “This is the most talented team I have seen since the play-offs in 2006.”

For the tournament, the USA-based Marlo Sweatman (captain), Toriana Patterson, Nicole Harris, McKenzie Marsh and Alika Keane, as well as the Canada-based duo of Tashaye Lue and Oshay Lawes, are expected to figure for Jamaica.

They will be complemented by the CFU Under-20 Championship Most Valuable Player Khadija Shaw, plus Trudy Carter and Shantal Bailey.

Though the Jamaicans have not been able to secure any international practice games, they have embarked on a rigid fitness program and camp in Florida on the eve of the Cayman kick-off.

Jamaica will open the CONCACAF tournament against Guatemala in the first game of a doubleheader on Jan. 9.

“Definitely we want to start the campaign with a win, and all being well, we should get the three points as I believe that we have the talent and experience to pull it off,” said Gilbert. “I believe we have the toughest group, but still I think we can finish in the top two and make it to the semifinals and then take it from there.”

Group B will contested by Cayman Islands, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico.

The top two teams from each group will progress to the semifinals, with both winners advancing to the World Cup finals. The third-place playoff match will decide the confederation’s last qualifier.

Despite Jamaica being drawn into tough Group A, which also consists of perennial powerhouse United States, Costa Rica and Guatemala, head coach Xavier Gilbert remains upbeat for the tournament at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex from Jan. 9-19.

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