Jamaica earned a spot in next year’s Women’s World Cup on penalties after a 2-2 draw with Panama on Wednesday in the third-place at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
Both teams were vying for a first-ever trip to soccer’s premier tournament. Panama still has a chance to qualify for the World Cup in a two-legged playoff with Argentina.
The United States was set to play Canada in the championship match Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium. Both the United States and Canada already booked spots in the World Cup with wins in the semifinals. The top three finishers in the tournament earn berth, so the third-place match determined the other team.
The Reggae Girlz, ranked No. 64 in the world, became the first Caribbean team to earn a spot in the World Cup. The island nation re-started its women’s national team program in 2014 after a six-year hiatus, boosted by the support of Bob Marley’s oldest daughter, Cedella Marley.
“I’m telling you, this is a lot more than football,” Jamaica coach Hue Menzies said. “This is a statement. We’re going to go back home and celebrate. There’s not a whole lot of space on that island. But we’re gonna find every inch to celebrate on. Because this is history. History in the making.”
Panama still hopes to follow its men’s team, which went to the World Cup for the first time this past summer in Russia.
“They (the players) gained a lot of experience from this tournament because they were able to have different games against international competition. Some of the players were outside of the country for the first time, and it’s a young team, so they got a lot of experience,” Panama coach Victor Suarez said.
Ranked 66th in the world, Panama team stood out during the tournament because of the play from 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey. She made a number of impressive saves in the group stage against the U.S. team, earning a handshake from Carli Lloyd following the match.
She made a spectacular save in the seventh minute when she reached to stop a shot that Jamaica’s Giselle Washington took on a rebound off the post. But she couldn’t get to Khadija Shaw’s goal in the 13th minute that gave the Reggae Girlz the early lead.
Shaw, who is a senior forward for Tennessee and is known by her nickname Bunny, has scored 13 goals in her last 12 national team matches. Jody Brown, who is just 16, scored a hat-trick in the group stage.
Natalia Mills pulled Panama even at 1-1 with a goal in the 74th minute.
Jamaica went up first in extra-time with Brown’s goal in the 95th minute. Panama again equalized with Lineth Cendeno’s goal in the 115th. Jamaica prevailed 4-2 on penalties. After a pair of Panama misses, Dominique Bond-Flasza made her shot to send Jamaica to France.
The two teams had met just once before, a 2006 2-0 Jamaica victory.
Only a sparse crowd watched the match, which was played in rainy conditions and temperatures in the 50s.