22/05/2024

Jamaica celebrate after its historic Round of 16 qualification. (Image: @jff_football/X)

Jamaica held Brazil to a nil-all draw in its final group game to book a place in the Round of 16 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time and knocking out the South American giants in the process.

It’s not often that a 0-0 stalemate can illicit such a wide range of emotions at the full-time whistle. Last night was one of those rare moments.

When referee Esther Staubli called time, the unbridled Jamaican joy was contrasted with sombre Brazilian disappointment.

The unrelenting drumming from the loudest corner of the Seleçao support came to an abrupt halt, as every single member of the Jamaican bench stormed the field in frenzied celebration.

Jamaican flags that had been hard to spot in the majority Brazilian-filled crowd at a packed Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, were now waved proudly all around the stands. A historic first-ever qualification to the knockout stage for Jamaica at a men’s or women’s World Cup.

The encounter was the last-ever international match for Brazil’s Marta, an icon who inspired a generation.

Jamaica weathers the Brazilian storm

Prior to the match, Jamaica head coach Lorne Donaldson had warned that Brazil would come out “like a pack of wild hyenas… getting after their prey,” and that his side would have to be ready for “attacks in waves” from the Copa America champions.

He was right to be wary as the South Americans dominated the opening stanza from the first whistle, with the Reggae Girlz struggling to get close to the Brazil box.

Marta was denied twice in the opening 10 minutes, once by a smart save down low from Becky Spencer, the second by a brilliant last-ditch block from Vyan Sampson.

Knowing a draw was enough to see them through, Donaldson had his troops well marshalled to repel wave after wave of Brazilian pressure. Jamaica often flooded the box with bodies, giving its skilful opponents very little room in which they could attempt to weave some magic.

As a result, Brazil was limited to lofted balls into the area and crosses which played into the hands of the taller Jamaican defenders.

Brazilian veteran Tamires still managed to go close on two more occasions in the opening half, but Spencer was equal to the task as Jamaica survived until the break.

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Second Half struggles for the Seleçao

After a strong showing in the first half, Pia Sundhage’s side needed to build on the chances they created and find the breakthrough in this must-win clash.

However, cutting edge in the final third seemed to evade them in the second term, and a surprising lack of urgency saw Brazil struggle to carve out any meaningful chances.

Sundhage had already brought on Bia Zaneratto for Ary Borges at the break, but after a fruitless 35 second-half minutes, the Swedish coach rang the changes again.

Duda Sampaio, Andressa Alves and Geyse were on, as Luana, Antonia and Marta all made way, with the latter’s departure, met with a resounding round of applause for what would prove to be her final curtain call.

Unfortunately for the strong and vocal Brazil support in the crowd, the first chance of note in the second half fell Jamaica’s way two minutes later. Khadija Shaw burst through on goal after a knock-on from Drew Spence, but Kathellen raced back to do just enough to force Jamaica’s talismanic striker to fire over the crossbar.

The Seleçao eventually generated some efforts on target in the final minutes, but Spencer was again comfortable as she collected a low drive from Debinha and a free kick from Andressa.

In one last desperate bid to muster a goal, Brazil goalkeeper Leticia was sent forward to contest a corner in the final minute of injury time.

Chaos in the box ensued from the resulting set piece, but once again Spencer was on hand to jump on the loose ball as the seconds ticked away to a famous result for the Reggae Girlz.

Jubilation and despair

When the final whistle brought the contest to a close, tears began to flow on both sides.

Jamaica’s captain Khadija Shaw dropped to her knees and began to sob with joy as she felt the weight of what her side had just managed to pull off, becoming the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Donaldson couldn’t contain his excitement, stumbling, rolling and jumping up as he and every player, coach and member of the Jamaican staff sprinted onto the field in excitement.

Jamaican players with tears streaming down their faces embraced long and hard as they came to terms with their historic achievement.

For a team that has faced so many obstacles over the last two decades, the gravity of this moment cannot be understated.

The 43rd-ranked team in the world are now one of only three teams in the tournament who are yet to concede a goal.

Among the celebrations, the pitch was also strewn with Brazilian players with their heads in their hands as the bitter disappointment set in.

Brazil is a proud footballing nation whose aspirations will always reach far beyond the group stage, and to fall this short was too much for some to bare.

Tamires stood resolute as she showed strength to keep it together for her teammates, while from the bench Marta stared off into space, pondering what might have been.

An icon calls time

At 37 years of age, and in her sixth FIFA Women’s World Cup, many believed that this was Marta’s swansong on the international stage.

Widely considered the greatest player in the history of the women’s game, she has scored the most goals of any player, men’s or women’s, in World Cup history.

There is evidently still plenty of ability left in the Brazil number 10 to perform at the top level, but last night she confirmed that this was indeed her last dance.

“Marta ends here. There is no more World Cup for Marta,” Marta said.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had to play in another World Cup, and I’m very happy with all that’s happening in women’s football in Brazil and the world.”

In her spirited post-game interview, the Brazilian icon reflected on her legacy while imploring for continued support in the rise of the women’s game.

“I think the only old woman is me. The majority are girls who have a lot of talent, who have a huge road ahead of them,” Marta said.

“I end here, but they continue.

“We are seeing here teams that came to the World Cup and took seven, eight, ten [years] and they’re playing like big teams.

“This shows that women’s football has been growing. This shows that women’s football is a product that makes a profit, that is a pleasure to watch. Keep supporting”

Despite bowing out far earlier than she ever would have envisioned in her last World Cup, Marta leaves behind a legacy for the next generation to stand upon and build their own

The world will miss her on the pitch on our screens, but the impact she leaves behind will last forever.

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