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Colombia Knocked Out Jamaica And Can Now Return To Normal

Leicy Santos of Colombia controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Round of 16 match between Colombia and Jamaica at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on August 8, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo by Andrew Wiseman / DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I don't think either Jamaica or Colombia imagined they'd find themselves where they both were on Tuesday. Jamaica came into this World Cup with real talent but also a tough group and no history of tournament success. They may have hoped they'd make it to the round of 16, but they probably wouldn't have expected to. Colombia, with a more impressive tournament history and a more manageable group, had reason to presume their passage to the knockout rounds. But, upon getting there, the Cafeteras probably didn't think they'd do so as group winners and thus as round of 16 favorites against a team like Jamaica.

Because of that, Tuesday's Jamaica-Colombia matchup in the Sweet 16 featured two teams that didn't seem especially prepared for the challenge in front of them. If styles make fights, then this was one between two counter-punchers. Neither really likes it when the opponent doesn't take the initiative, at least not in big matches, where they both are more accustomed to the reactive, underdog role. And adding to the counter-punchers' general hesitance to opening themselves up, Jamaica and Colombia both also knew that this was a unique opportunity: a World Cup knockout match that either one of them could very well win.

You could feel the undercurrent of all this during the match, in the first half especially. Colombia and Jamaica were very cautious in feeling each other out in the early goings. The opening 45 minutes had emotional verve, intensity, and some big swings in both directions as each team attempted to score a knockout with just one punch, but little coordination and structure. It made for a game that was more compelling than well-played.

But the teams came out in the second half a little more assured and with an eye on winning. Jamaica wanted to follow the strategy that had gotten them this far: defending deep and stridently, conceding possession, countering quickly when they got the ball, and in general trying to avoid losing in hopes of eventually snatching a win. Colombia didn't play along. The Powerpuff Girls, I believe both out of the aforementioned discomfort with taking the initiative and as a tactical choice to wrong-foot the Reggae Girlz, mirrored Jamaica's game plan by granting possession to their opponent and waiting for chances for fast, direct attacks. Because of this, the two teams split possession evenly during the match (the most possession Jamaica had all tournament), and neither could or really even attempted to exercise any particular order or control on the pattern of the match.

Without too much help structurally, and with both teams playing it relatively safe, the match was always likely to come down to individual quality. Khadija Shaw is Jamaica's standout player in the technical sense, but Jamaica's inability to build attacks other than by knocking the ball up to their isolated striker and hoping she could make something happen meant Shaw had to focus too much on trying to keep the ball and not enough on how she could use it to score. Colombia, meanwhile, has several players blessed with exceptional technique and associative quality, and so they proved a bigger threat whenever their attackers got loose. Sure enough, Colombia eventually scored the match's lone goal with a couple of exquisite technical gestures: first, the deliciously thumped cross-field pass from 18-year-old Ana Guzmán, and then Catalina Usme's even more impressive control, which turned Guzmán's bullet into a pillow, and the cool finish to lift it past the Jamaican keeper and into the side netting.

Even down a goal, Jamaica had a hard time being proactive with the ball. After scoring Colombia was even more determined to deny Jamaica big, open spaces, without which Jamaica looked like a fish without water. The Reggae Girlz had a couple chances, the best of which was an open header that Drew Spence sent just the wrong side of the goal post, but other than that never looked too close to an equalizer.

Meanwhile Colombia's tiny technicians continued to torture Jamaica's back line. Mayra Ramírez was excellent yet again with her holdup play, causing Jamaica's stalwart central defense tons of trouble as she vacated the central areas and went hunting for, hiding, and passing the ball where the opponents couldn't get to it. For her part, wonderkid Linda Caicedo had a mostly quiet game—probably the one thing keeping her from constant, match-dominating omnipotence is her penchant for laying too low for long stretches of play—which naturally meant she still pulled off one of the game's most impressive sequences. Look at how she sizes up Allyson Swaby—who's been one of the best defenders of the whole tournament—as Swaby is determined not to let Caicedo cut inside, but Caicedo keeps her off balance, takes a touch that gives the appearance that she has decided to go outside, and with a single, perfectly-timed touch back the other direction turns Swaby's cleats into roller skates. From there, Caicedo cuts inside unhindered, and pops in a shot that, mercifully for the fallen Swaby, soars over the goal frame:

With Usme's goal, Ramírez's holdup play, Caicedo's flashes of dazzling skill, Jorelyn Carabalí's wrangling of Shaw, and Catalina Pérez's sound goalkeeping, Colombia managed to see out Jamaica, 1-0. Next on the docket is England on Saturday. The Lionesses, usually (but not always) one of the most game-controlling teams in the world, will pose Colombia a much different challenge than Jamaica did. But it'll also be a challenge that Colombia will be more comfortable with. England may dictate the tempo, but Colombia will suffer and endure, waiting for an opening through which they can land a big uppercut—just the way they like it.

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