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‘The gap is closing’ says Jamaica manager as Reggae Girlz impress at Women’s World Cup

<i>David Gray/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Deneisha Blackwood is congratulated by teammates after Jamaica draw 0-0 with France on Sunday.
David Gray/AFP/Getty Images
Deneisha Blackwood is congratulated by teammates after Jamaica draw 0-0 with France on Sunday.

By Ben Church, CNN

(CNN) — Just five days into the 2023 Women’s World Cup and many of the tournament underdogs are already making a name for themselves.

Jamaica’s goalless draw with world No. 5 France on Sunday was just the latest shock result. On Thursday New Zealand won its first Women’s World Cup game by beating Norway.

Even if results haven’t gone the way of the smaller teams, many games have been much closer than expected.

Haiti, for example, was unlucky not to get something from its match against European champion England on Saturday and the Republic of Ireland could have stolen a point against cohost Australia on Thursday.

After guiding his own side to an historic result against France, Jamaica’s manager Lorne Donaldson said he wasn’t surprised by the way smaller nations were performing.

“Starting from everything, from the diet, to the coaching, to the physical training, the smaller countries are getting an understanding,” he told reporters.

“We might not have the resources that bigger countries do, in terms of equipment and travel, but I think there is an understanding there with coaches and technical staff […] our preparation is a little bit better.”

For the first time, 32 teams are competing in this year’s Women’s World Cup – including eight nations making their tournament debut.

It led to concerns that nations such as the USWNT, England and France, which boast comparatively bountiful resources, would walk over the less experienced sides.

During the 2019 edition in France, the USWNT humiliated Thailand 13-0 in a game which highlighted the disparity in the women’s game – some even criticised the US players for not taking mercy on their opponents.

But this year, in its first game of the tournament, reigning champion USWNT only managed to win 3-0 against Vietnam which, in truth, was a closer scoreline than many had expected.

There has been some one-sided games, though. Japan thrashed Zambia 5-0 on Saturday and Germany beat Morocco 6-0 on Monday, but such score lines were not commonplace in the opening fixtures.

“Once upon a time, the US in particular was very dominant but you see the gap is closing and the smaller nations are jumping on that bandwagon,” Donaldson added.

“The smaller nations are believing that they can get this done.”

Led by the supremely talented Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, Jamaica deserved to draw against tournament frontrunners France on Sunday.

It was the first point the Reggae Girlz had earned at a World Cup, having only played one previous tournament.

Donaldson praised the number of promising youngsters coming through the ranks and said the opportunity for players to play in the world’s top leagues was helping to raise the level of the team.

Jamaica’s Deneisha Blackwood, who was player of the match on Sunday, echoed her manager’s thoughts and said players are now confident they can stand up to the sport’s biggest stars.

“Not saying the bigger team doesn’t have heart but I think smaller countries coming into these games have a lot on the line and I think we just play with our heart,” she told reporters, after celebrating Jamaica’s 0-0 draw as if it was a win.

“The football world is growing and it shows in smaller countries too.”

Jamaica is now one of the less experienced teams dreaming of a place in the knockout stages of the competition.

But, whatever happens next, Donaldson said the team, ranked 43rd in the world, has already made history against the French.

“I would say it was the number one result we’ve had so far,” he said. “You’re playing a team like France which is just fantastic.

“I think it’s the number one result I have seen, men or women. If you go by the rankings then you’d say that the result, on this stage, has to be number one.”

Jamaica faces Panama and Brazil in its final two group stage matches, knowing a victory would go a long way to securing a place in the next round.

Eyes will be on all the underdogs to see if they can keep competing against the bigger teams once players get settled into the tournament.

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