By RON FANFAIR
Guyana is the lowest ranked of the eight teams participating in the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Women’s World Cup qualifier in Mexico, starting this afternoon.
The Lady Jags, as they are commonly known, is in the same group with Canada (which is aiming to advance to the global tournament for the fifth time), Trinidad & Tobago and the host country. The Guyanese are not expected to advance from their group, but the girls are looking forward to the meeting with the Canadians on Sunday.
The majority of the team – 12 – was born in Canada to Guyanese parents and a few of them were overlooked by national soccer programs.
“That’s incentive for them right there to go out and want to do well against Canada,” said Guyanese-born technical director Mark Rodrigues who has resided in Canada for the past 34 years. “The country of their birth did not give them the opportunity to showcase their skills at the highest level and they are delighted to be representing Guyana and playing some of the best teams in the region.”
Though ranked 85th in the world, Rodrigues is not intimidated by the challenge that lies ahead. Canada is ranked 13th, Mexico 22nd and T & T 46.
The Guyana women’s program was launched in May 2008 and the team played its first match in June 2009.
“In fact, I am absolutely amazed with how far the program has advanced in such a short time,” said Rodrigues who is affiliated with the Tampa-based Central Pasco United Soccer Association as a coaching director. “With limited resources and access to players, that is truly remarkable. All I am asking the girls to do is to go out, play hard and leave it all on the field.”
The cash-strapped Guyana Soccer Federation covered airfare costs while private donors and the United States Soccer Federation assisted with other expenses, including accommodation and gear.
To add to their inexperience at this level, Guyana will be without three key starters for the tournament that runs from October 28 to November 8 in Cancun.
Rhode Island University and Gannon University have refused to release right back Nikkita Persaud and goalkeeper Tenyka Francique respectively while American-born centre back Daria Owen is unavailable.
Guyana meets Mexico tomorrow (October 29), Canada on October 31 at 7 p.m. and T & T on November 2.
The Canadians begin play in the round-robin tournament against T & T tomorrow at 7 p.m. and their final group contest is against Mexico on November 2 at 9.30 p.m.
The other group comprises the world’s top ranked side, the United States, Costa Rica, Haiti and Guatemala.
The top two teams in each group advance to the semi-finals and the finalists will automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Germany from June 26 to July 17.
The third place side qualifies for a November home and away playoff series against the fifth-place team from Europe (either Italy or Switzerland), with the winner advancing to the 16-team World Cup.
Canada’s matches in the Women’s World Cup qualifier in Mexico will be broadcast online via CONCACAF.com and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will broadcast the matches on CBC, CBC Bold and CBCSports.ca.