Jamaica dumped out Brazil and South Africa sent Italy home on Wednesday as the supposed minnows roared into the last 16 of an increasingly open Women’s World Cup.
The Reggae Girlz’ coach Lorne Donaldson declared it “job done” after his dogged Jamaica side strangled the life out of eighth-ranked Brazil in Melbourne for a 0-0 draw.
It was the point Jamaica needed to progress into the knockout rounds for the first time in history and meant a crushing end to the World Cup career of Brazilian legend Marta.
The 37-year-old, arguably the greatest player in the history of women’s football, was as shell-shocked as she was upset afterwards.
Brazil’s meek group-phase exit at the hands of a team ranked 43 was their earliest departure from the tournament since being turfed out at the same stage in 1995.
“It’s hard to talk at a time like this. Not even in my worst nightmares was it the World Cup I dreamed of,” said Marta, once nicknamed “Pele in a skirt” by the late football icon.
Jamaica finished second in Group F and will meet the team that comes top when Group H concludes on Thursday. That is currently Colombia.
France topped Group F as Kadidiatou Diani hit a hat-trick in a 6-3 win over Panama and a possible meeting next with Germany.
Marta Cox’s wonder strike on 67 seconds had left the French reeling, swerving a free-kick into the corner from 30 yards for Panama’s first-ever World Cup goal.
She spun away in celebration and was mobbed by teammates as the tears flowed at a sold-out Sydney Football Stadium.
South Africa joy
There were also tears – of joy and devastation – after 54th-ranked South Africa showed Jamaica the way in a wet Wellington.
The African champions won a Women’s World Cup match for the first time with a stunning 3-2 victory over 16th-ranked Italy in a thriller.
Captain Thembi Kgatlana scored the winner in the 92nd minute to make history for South Africa and set up a meeting with the Netherlands – sending Italy home.
Arianna Caruso scored twice for Italy and thought she had salvaged the draw they needed to go through with 16 minutes left, before Kgatlana’s stunning late intervention.
“Over the last two weeks, I’ve lost three family members. I could have gone home but I chose to stay with my girls,” said Kgatlana, who plays for Racing Louisville in the United States.
“Because that’s how much it means.”
Sweden topped Group G with the maximum nine points to set up a clash with holders the United States.
It will be the teams’ first meeting since Sweden beat the USA 3-0 at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago on their way to taking the silver medal.
“We have played really good group-stage games, we have won all three of them, and we also beat them in the Olympics,” said Sofia Jakobsson, who came into Sweden’s line-up against Argentina and set up the opening goal in a 2-0 win.
The Americans came into the tournament in Australia and New Zealand as favourites to win an unprecedented third World Cup in a row.
But they have looked nothing like the team that has for so long dominated women’s international football and only scraped out of the group phase with a shaky 0-0 draw against debutants Portugal on Tuesday.
France beat Panama 6-3 to make last 16
Panama coach Nacho Quintana said Wednesday their first-ever World Cup goals in a 6-3 defeat to France will be a springboard to growing the game in their home nation.
The tournament minnows depart Australia with three straight losses, but they won the hearts of 40,000 fans packed into the Sydney Football Stadium with a never-say-die attitude and exuberant goal celebrations.
Quintana, who took over in 2021 and has been a driving force for equal opportunities and salaries between the men’s and women’s teams, said their debut tournament had been a success in many ways.
“We gained a lot. 40,000 people ended up cheering our team, we showed them the energy, the vibe of Panamanian football,” said the Mexican.
“The idea was to have a draw, but the goals proved that we will come back stronger than ever in four years’ time.”
One of the goals will be a contender for best of the tournament, with captain Marta Cox curling in a free kick from 30 yards after just 67 seconds to spark wild celebrations.
Panama were the 32nd and last team to seal their place at the World Cup, courtesy of a 1-0 win over Paraguay in the final qualifying tournament back in February.
Their build-up was far from perfect, including a 7-0 friendly defeat against Spain. But Quintana said they had learned a lot and it boded well moving forward.
“It is promising for the future,” he said. “It is the beginning of everything. I’m proud of what this team has done, not just the players but the technical staff and the federation.
“We have a lot of players aged 20 or 21 and playing three World Cup games is very positive.”
Caicedo ‘100 percent’
Group action concludes on Thursday with Colombia needing only a draw against Morocco to top Group H.
Germany, stunned by Colombia and 18-year-old attacker Linda Caicedo in their previous match, are through with a win over a South Korea side who are more or less already out.
Caicedo underwent X-rays after health scares at the tournament but is “100 percent” fit for the Morocco game, coach Nelson Abadia said.
The teenage Real Madrid attacker, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 15 but made a full recovery, has lit up the World Cup with goals in wins against South Korea and Germany.
In the upset over two-time champions Germany Caicedo scored one of the goals of the tournament, days after going down in training clutching her chest.
She also appeared to suffer breathing difficulties in that 2-1 win – which took Colombia to the brink of the last 16 – but carried on playing.