Colombia reached the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in the country’s history after a nervy 1-0 victory over Jamaica in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Catalina Usme brilliantly scored the winner and, in the process, became the first player at this tournament to break Jamaica’s stubborn defense.
The Colombians’ reward is a last eight tie against reigning European champion and world No.4 England in Sydney on Saturday, a match the South American team has the talent to win despite there being 21 places between the two sides in the world rankings.
Colombia and Jamaica’s unlikely journeys to the knockout stages will be a major reason why this tournament will be regarded as a success. After all, what is sporting romance if it isn’t the traditional powerhouses faltering and the underdogs thriving against the odds?
With these two teams having been accustomed to largely playing against countries expected to beat them in the group stages, both struggled to take the initiative in this tie and, consequently, there were few chances.
But in doing just enough to beat Jamaica, Colombia becomes the first South American country to reach the last eight since Brazil in 2011.
After the match, Colombia coach Nelson Abadía told FIFA: “I believe this moment is unique for Colombian women’s football history, for south America … Equally, this is the triumph of a human group that has worked hard to achieve consistency, to have a trade, character, personality … and today we played and won well.”
Jamaica had an opportunity to level the score late in the game, but Drew Spence headed inches wide. Colombia’s Leicy Santos then hit the post in the final few minutes as the match came to life in the latter stages with Jamaica going in search of an equalizer.
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Impossible to ignore
Some of Jamaica’s players were in tears after the final whistle. But the country’s presence in the round-of-16 is particularly remarkable.
Not only did the Reggae Girlz progress from a group which contained favorites France and Brazil, but they did so having had to release a statement before the tournament expressing their “utmost disappointment” with the country’s soccer federation.
The team had missed several friendlies, the statement said, due to “extreme disorganization” and that they had “showed up repeatedly without receiving contractually agreed upon compensation.”
In a statement on its website, the JFF acknowledged that “things have not been done perfectly” but that it was “working assiduously to resolve” players’ concerns.
The question now is what will be the response to the team’s success, and that of other lesser-funded countries?
While about $49 million of the record $110 million World Cup prize money will go directly to individual players, the rest of the pot will be split between participating federations who will decide what share of this money to allocate to teams and players – if any at all.
Even though Jamaica’s participation in this tournament ended in Melbourne, the players have sparkled on the world stage and made themselves, you would hope, impossible to ignore.
Jamaica keeps Caicedo quiet
The match started as if it were to end in penalties. Jamaica relied on the defense that hadn’t conceded a goal in the group stages and, like France and Brazil before them, Colombia struggled to puncture a well-organized backline.
Having scored just once in the tournament prior to this tie, Jamaica’s coach Lorne Donaldson had challenged his team to find the net, but the team managed just two shots on target and didn’t enjoy enough possession to put sustained pressure on Colombia.
There were flashes from Linda Caicedo, Colombia’s talented 18-year-old, but the teenager was largely kept quiet in a match in which defense got the better of attack, other than for Usme’s moment of magic.
In the 51st minute, the Colombia captain delicately controlled Ana Guzman’s incredible pass and placed the ball beyond Jamaica’s Rebecca Spencer. Fittingly, it was the goal that would make history.
Jamaica nearly leveled soon after when Colombia’s Catalina Perez fumbled the ball on her goalline, but the South American side counterattacked quickly and troubled the Caribbean side once again only for Caicedo to be called offside.
The longer the game progressed, the more freedom Caicedo enjoyed on the left flank, but Jamaica defended the threat posted by the Real Madrid player who has lit up this tournament with her wonderful skill on the ball.
But Jamaica needed to also score and despite a late flourish, the team’s prosaic approach ultimately proved to be its downfall.