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Jamaican Women Qualify For First-Ever World Cup With Dramatic Shootout Win

It was one of those miserable Texas days when the sun never comes out and you’re not entirely sure where the sky ends and the clouds begin. It was cold and it was rainy. It was a far cry from typical weather back in Kingston — but it was the greatest day in the history of the Jamaica women's national team.

Jamaica defeated Panama 4-2 in a shootout after a 2-2 draw in the third-place match of the Concacaf Women’s Championship to clinch the region’s final automatic berth to the 2019 women’s World Cup on Wednesday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. 

The third-place game of the Concacaf Women’s Championship was guaranteed to be a landmark match for someone. Neither of the two countries had ever qualified for the women’s World Cup. Jamaica is the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the women's World Cup.

After 120 minutes, substitute goalkeeper Nicole McClure made two saves to propel the Reggae Girlz to the 2019 World Cup in France.

Jamaica defeated Costa Rica and Cuba in group play before losing 6-0 to the U.S. in the semifinals. The third-place finish at the tournament was the team’s best, bettering a fourth-place finish in 2006. 

But it wasn’t easy.

Jamaica took the lead in the 13th minute only for it to be canceled out in the 74th. In extra time, the Reggae Girlz again took the lead five minutes in only for Panama to score another equalizer, this in the 115th minute.

In the shootout, McClure, brought in just before the end of the match to be the shootout goalkeeper for Jamaica, made two saves and her teammates went a perfect 4 for 4 to send the Jamaica women's national team to its first World Cup.

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The Jamaica women's national team has eight players who are students in the U.S., including the University of Tennessee’s Khadija Shaw, who led the Jamaicans with three goals in the Concacaf Women’s Championship.

None of Panama’s players are based in the U.S., though Panama’s roster did include 13-year-old defender Sheyla Díaz. Panama’s star player was 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey, who kept her side in the match with some impressive saves. 

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Panama, which knocked out Mexico with a 2-0 win during group play, will now play Argentina in an intercontinental two-legged playoff for the final berth into the 2019 women’s World Cup. 

Jamaica was the better team in the first half, bossing play primarily through Shaw. In the 13th minute, the forward was left wide open in the box and powered her header into the back of the net for the game’s opening goal.

Shaw went on an amazing solo run in the 51st minute before picking out Deneisha Blackwood at the back post, but the West Florida player’s shot struck the post and went wide. Shaw came close to scoring again in the 69th minute, but her free header in the box flew off target. 

Panama fought back in the second half and Natalia Mills equalized in the 74th minute. Karla Riley played Mills in on goal and the Panamanian buried her shot low into the far corner, giving 19-year-old keeper Sydney Schneider no chance. Everything from the pass to the finish was perfect.

Kenia Rangel nearly gave Panama the lead in the 79th minute, but Schneider, a UNC Wilmington student, was well placed to save her close-range shot. 

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Jamaica should have had a penalty kick in the 83rd minute when Katherine Castillo committed a foul just on the edge of the box. But referee Carol Anne Chénard ruled the foul to be just outside the box and the ensuing free kick sailed over everyone, and the match went to extra time. 

In extra time, 16-year-old Jody Brown capitalized on a low, slow cross that somehow made its way across the top of the 18-yard box to her. The winger tucked her shot just inside the near post to give Jamaica the lead.

But Panama wasn’t phased and fought back for a second time. Lineth Cedeño snuck in behind the Jamaican defense and chipped Schneider to level the game at 2-2, sending the match to a shootout.

In the shootout, both teams buried their first two shots. McClure then saves a shot from Cedeño before Christina Chang, Jamaica’s oldest player at 33, gave the Reggae Girlz a 3-2 lead. 

After McClure made another big save, this time on Rangel, Dominique Bond-Flasza converted to send the Jamaica women's national team to the 4-2 shootout win.

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