We haven’t won anything as yet: Gilbert says Girlz remain focused despite high of historic French stalemate; Shaw’s red card suspension appealed

By July 25, 2023
Reggae Girlz assistant coach Xavier Gilbert with player Deneisha Blackwood Reggae Girlz assistant coach Xavier Gilbert with player Deneisha Blackwood

Jamaica's assistant coach Xavier Gilbert says the senior Reggae Girlz are well aware of the importance of focusing on the task at hand, instead of overdosing on the high of earning their first ever Fifa Women's World Cup point.

Though their historic goalless draw against one of the tournaments favourite and fifth-ranked France is worth celebrating, Gilbert pointed out that the players required no reminders about their main objective at the tournament being co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand --to progress beyond the group stages.

In fact, the assistant to Head coach Lorne Donaldson emphasized that the focus shifted to their upcoming game against Panama, soon after they departed the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday, where the 43rd-ranked Girlz gritty performance delighted a crowd of almost 40,000.

"I think we did well, we had our game plan against France and the Girlz executed, not perfectly, but well enough to earn us a point in an atmosphere that almost felt like Jamaica's National Stadium. The crowd was really behind us and supported us and for that we are happy, even moreso, to get on the board where the point is concerned, but it's unto the next game," Gilbert told SportsMax.tv.

"It (the point) is huge, and it no doubt ranks high on the list of the country's accomplishments among male or female teams, but more importantly, it puts us in good stead for the rest of the tournament and the players know that. So, while they basked in the achievement, they remain focus on the job at hand and know the level of work they have to put in to earn it," he added.

The Girlz have now been subjected to much higher expectations than they usually entertain with many pundits now believing they can pull off what initially seemed an impossible task of getting out Group F which also includes number eight-ranked Brazil.

That hype and confidence behind the team has reached a level where the Girlz commanded the media spotlight for the past two days and even earned the respect of many, who would have probably scoffed at their ambitions in the buildup to this, their second appearance global showpiece, following three losses on debut in France 2019.

Still, Gilbert reiterated that the players are aware that the off-field hype isn't enough to carry the team and it is only through consistent efficiency in their performances against more top-quality teams that will truly prove them worthy.

"I'm sure the other teams will start to respect us now, we had objectives that we want to achieve so the strength of the first game performance would have increased the confidence level in the Girlz ability and what they can achieve in the tournament," he said.

"But we haven’t won anything yet, so obviously there’s a lot of expectations, but we still feel like the underdogs, and we still have a lot of work to do as we keep building towards a sustainable and competitive women’s football programme," Gilbert noted.

With Brazil currently at the top of the group on three points, the Jamaicans, who are joint second on a point with France, will be hoping to assert their authority against 52nd-ranked Concacaf rivals Panama, who are without a point, after a 0-4 loss to the Brazilians.

Though the Reggae Girlz setup has improved significantly where player quality is concerned, since that famous October 17, 2018, penalty shootout victory against the Panamanians, which secured their first World Cup berth, Gilbert said they will by no means grandstand against their rivals come Saturday at the Perth Rectangular Stadium, especially without inspirational captain Khadija "Bunny" Shaw.

The prolific striker picked up two yellow cards I that opening contest against France. Efforts have since been made to have the second caution that led to the suspension, overturned, but it is left to be seen what will transpire.

For now, Gilbert explained that they are proceeding accordingly.

"It's a huge disappointment both for her [Bunny] and the team that she will miss the next game, but the ladies are professional, they know what is at stake, they understand what to do and again it's just about the belief in their own ability to get the job done without Bunny.

"So we are preparing for the next game in that vein because we don't underestimate any team. So as soon as we got the Girlz recovered, it was back to business because we have to take care of business come Saturday," Gilbert ended.

 

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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