Jamaica’s players set out to “shock the world” in their Women’s World Cup opener against France – and did so despite unrest over complaints of “subpar” support from their federation.
Facing the side ranked fifth in the world and packed with European superstars – including eight-time Champions League winners Wendie Renard and Eugenie le Sommer – Jamaica were pitched as heavy underdogs but came away with an impressive goalless draw at Sydney Football Stadium.
“We said [to each other] to go and shock the world. Shock the world – nobody believes in us. We have to do it ourselves,” said Tottenham and Jamaica midfielder Drew Spence.
“We have been hearing it all, but we just put our heads down. My family said ‘just go and enjoy it’ – and that’s what we did.”
Jamaica, ranked 43rd in the world, are making their second appearance at a Women’s World Cup, having become the first Caribbean team to qualify for the tournament at the 2019 edition.
However, their journey to Australia and New Zealand has been marred by the players’ battle with their own federation, leading to “utmost disappointment” within the camp.
In an open letter , the Reggae Girlz called for “immediate and systematic change” within the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF).
They said they missed official matches because of “extreme disorganisation” and have not “contractually agreed upon compensation”.
The players also claimed to have sat down with the JFF “on multiple occasions” to express their concerns, but “questions go unanswered and concerns unresolved”.
So when the final whistle blew in Sydney, in front of 39,000 fans, Jamaica’s players celebrated in style, running to embrace team-mates on the pitch, spraying water at each other in delight.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” added Spence. “I had a good feeling. Everyone always writes us off – we weren’t even meant to get here. A lot of people said we wouldn’t get out of the qualifying group.
“But we are here and that’s a great result. We just need to make sure we go into the next game with the same confidence. It’s all or nothing.
“We’ve had a really tough year. Personally and as a team we haven’t prepared as much as I would have liked to for a World Cup. It shows you what this team is capable of.”
The result is a welcome one for Spence, who was part of a struggling Tottenham side in the Women’s Super League (WSL) this season, alongside Jamaica goalkeeper Becky Spencer, who had her own injury battles.
“It’s been a long, long stretch to get out there,” said Spencer. “I’m proud of everyone. It hasn’t sunk in yet that we have just gone out and done that.
“Obviously, after everything we’ve been going through, it’s amazing that the girls have performed like that.”
It was the first time Jamaica avoided defeat at a World Cup, having lost all three group games in 2019. It was also just the second time – and first since 2003 – France failed to win their opening game of the competition.
“We’ve gone through so much outside of football and we’re all fighting a battle every single day here with Jamaica,” added Spencer.
“But inside, the group of players, we knew we could get something out of the game. We have belief, confidence and a real resilience. We deserve that result.
“It’s massive [for fans] in Jamaica. They absolutely love us. I don’t know what time it is there but they would have been watching. We are like heroes to them so they would have loved every single minute.”