By RON FANFAIR
Guyana has made soccer history by qualifying for this year’s Gold Cup tournament, which doubles as a World Cup qualifier, and the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games.
Less than a year after the women’s program was formally launched, the “Lady Jags” shut out Barbados 3-0 and St. Lucia 8-0 in Trinidad & Tobago recently to become the first Guyanese side to make it to the CAC Games and the last stage of qualifiers for next year’s World Cup in Germany.
Despite losing to the twin-island republic in its final group match, Lady Jags technical director Mark Rodrigues was ecstatic with his team’s overall performance.
“After being together for less than a year, we have more than exceeded our expectations,” he told Share. “We have advanced further than any other national team. We were always confident we could do well in the Caribbean, which we have shown. Losing to T & T has given us an idea of where we need to go to be the best in the region.”
The Lady Jags made a brief stop in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) earlier this month on their way to T & T. Comprising mainly university and college players of Guyanese-born parents living in Canada, the squad practiced and played warm-up matches in Pickering and Scarborough prior to flying to the twin-island republic.
Four team members are based in the United States while the remaining three players, including national rugby player Colette Hope, live in Guyana.
The women’s program, boosted by the Miami-based Guyana Sports Development Foundation with the support of the Guyana Soccer Federation, was officially launched last June in the Turks & Caicos with the Lady Jags outscoring the British Overseas territory’s Under-20 and Select sides by a 10-0 margin in a two-match tournament. The team won all three of its matches in a goodwill tournament in Guyana last December, prompting the local federation to enter the side in the World Cup qualifying series.
The Lady Jags shut out Suriname 2-0 and St. Vincent & the Grenadines 1-0 in the opening round qualifying series in Guyana in March, advancing to last week’s second round qualifier in T & T.
Colin Klass, the long-serving president of the Guyana Soccer Federation, said the Lady Jags have created a buzz in the last year. He made the trip to Toronto to oversee the team’s final preparation and deliver a pep talk to the girls before they headed south.
“Our best resources are in the Diaspora and we made the decision to tap into it and secure the expertise and skills that are available overseas,” said Klass, who has been the head of the Guyana Soccer Federation for the past 23 years. “With the Canadian- and U.S.-based players in colleges and universities, they have the technical skills and discipline that are required at that level. They are also very coachable.”
International Soccer Federation (FIFA) technical adviser and former Canadian goalkeeper Dick Howard joined Klass, Guyana’s honorary consul general Danny Doobay, the Lady Jags and their technical staff at a reception at the Delta East Toronto Hotel. He said his first contact with Guyana soccer was when he met Guyana-born ex-Canadian internationals Lyndon and Charmaine Hooper.
“Sometimes, a country is known through its music like Bob Marley and Jamaica and soca and Trinidad & Tobago,” he said. “You must have some famous musicians, but this is a great opportunity for you to go to the next level. It’s your time ladies and it’s great to see what you have done so far.”
In preparation for the Gold Cup, Klass promised the girls will return to the GTA in the summer for a fundraising game against a Caribbean opponent.
Florida-based Program director Colin Baker estimates it will cost nearly US$1.5 million to prepare the team for the World Cup should they qualify. He said almost US$90,000 of that projected total has been spent on the squad this year.
“It’s for this reason we are seeking the help of the Diaspora to support the program by promoting fundraisers through their organizations and through the sale of memorabilia,” he said. “You have to be partners for this endeavour to be successful.”
The eight-team CAC Games tournament takes place in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico from July 22-31 while the Gold Cup will be held in November at a venue to be named.
Regional qualifiers Guyana, T & T, Haiti, Guatemala and Costa Rica will join Canada, the United States and Mexico, who received byes after taking the top three spots in the 2006 Gold Cup, in this year’s competition. The two finalists will automatically advance to the 2011 World Cup while the third-place team will compete in a play-off against a European side for a further finals berth.