Jamaica is into the Women's World Cup for the first time. The Reggae Girlz needed a shootout to top Panama 4-2 in penalties after a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes on Wednesday. The win earned them third place in the Concacaf Women's Championship and a spot in the 2019 World Cup in France.
Jamaica manager Hue Menzies swapped goalkeepers in the final minute of extra time, bringing Nicole Mcclure in to act as shot-stopper during the shootout rather than Sydney Schneider. The choice paid off. Mcclure stopped two penalty kicks while Jamaica's attackers converted on all four it took to lock up the victory.
Menzies said clinching a spot in the most important tournament would have implications not only on the way female athletes are viewed in the Caribbean nation but how Jamaicans see women as a whole.
"I'm telling you the amount of sacrifices we've made - the staff, the players - for the country, we're going to change the culture back home. How they perceive women, it's changed," he said. "It's a big sacrifice. And you know what? Those 20 girls decided they were going to make the change. It's amazing right now. Not too many words can be said."
The coach also praised Bob Marley's daughter Cedella, who has helped revive the team after it became inactive at the beginning of the decade. The first goal of the relaunch has been fulfilled five years after the project began.
"This is way more than football," Menzies said. "Big up to Cedella Marley for putting the neck on the line for us. The thank-yous can't stop. The sacrifices will still keep plugging, the adversities will always be there, but I'm telling you it's a lot more than football. This is just 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 going to find every inch to celebrate on because it's history."
Jody Brown scored what looked like the winner for Jamaica in the 95th minute. Second-half substitute Ashleigh Shim pushed forward down the left side and sent in a low cross that found Brown at the top of the box. Panama goalkeeper Yenith Bailey came out to stop the shot but couldn't get a hand on it.
Panama pulled the score level once again in the 115th minute. Lineth Cedeno guided her half-volley from a ball over the top into the back of the net to force a frenetic finish during which neither team could score.
Bailey, the Panama goalkeeper who has earned plaudits for her strong tournament, was called into action early, stopping a shot that seemed bound for the back of the net and tossing it back into play in the seventh minute.
She was beaten in the 14th minute, though, with Khadija "Bunny" Shaw nodding in a cross from Brown to open the scoring. But in the 74th minute, Natalia Mills broke away from her defender and finished to the far post with her right foot to bring things even and set up a dramatic finish. Jamaica had a penalty shout, but Canadian referee Carol Chenard ruled that the foul took place just outside the 18-yard box.
Despite Panama controlling possession for most of the last 10 minutes, Jamaica came out and controlled the overtime period. In addition to Browns' goal, Jamaica created a handful of other chances
The United States and Canada qualified Sunday with semifinal victories. Panama still has a chance to make it to France, playing a playoff against Argentina to decide the final berth from the Americas.