MELBOURNE: A courageous Jamaica held Brazil to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday to reach the knockout phase for the first time in only their second Women’s World Cup while condemning the South Americans to their earliest exit since 1995.
Needing a point to go through, the Reggae Girlz barely threatened to score but were tight in defense, repelling wave after wave of Brazilian attacks in a frenetic atmosphere at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
At the final whistle, the overwhelmed Jamaicans slumped to their knees and roared in joy before forming a circle to dance and sway to the Bob Marley song “One Love.”
Having lost all their matches in France four years ago, the Jamaicans have come a long way in a short time.
They held France 0-0 and beat Panama 1-0, finishing second in Group F behind the French while advancing courtesy of a single goal.
“I feel like we’ve been hugely underestimated,” said goalkeeper Becky Spencer, who won the player of the match award after her third clean sheet of the tournament.
“I don’t think anyone took us seriously.
“We’re resilient and we had a point to prove.”
Brazil, who needed three points, were left to lament a slew of missed chances in a dismal end to Marta’s sixth and final World Cup.
“They (Jamaica) did a good job and we weren’t able to make many chances,” stone-faced coach Pia Sundhage told reporters.
“When we could not break the defense, you get a little bit stressed. And if you get stressed, it was a little bit slow and you lose a little bit of the courage.”
Sundhage started 37-year-old Marta on the field for the first time in the tournament but the iconic forward was unable to inspire her team and her touch deserted her twice in front of goal early.
She fired a shot into a defender in the fourth minute and then blew another good opportunity seven minutes later with a heavy touch, leaving unmarked team mate Ary Borges fuming at the far post.
Charging toward goal, Borges finally had her chance when Luana found her with a cross but the playmaker steered her header well wide in the 24th minute.
Borges then set Tamires up with a delightful cross into the inside-left channel late in the half but she thumped a volley straight at Spencer.
Jamaica rode their luck to halftime and Brazil’s desperation grew after the break as their attacks came to nothing.
Jamaicans’ hearts were in mouths in the 79th minute when defender Allyson Swaby nearly put the ball into her own net with a terrible attempted clearance that forced Spencer into a fine save at the far post. In search of a goal, the Brazilians exposed themselves to the counterattack and Khadija Shaw all but made them pay.
Needing only the keeper to beat, she blazed just over the bar in the 82nd minute.
Brazil had one last chance in a final-minute goal-mouth scramble but Debinha headed straight to the keeper, allowing the Jamaicans to celebrate arguably their finest moment in international football.
“The mentality of us is nothing is impossible,” said Lorne Donaldson.
“Right now, with the females, we have never had this much fun.”