When Jamaica needed her most, Allyson Swaby took responsibility

Without Khadija Shaw, the centreback kept composed, led from the front and gave Jamaica its first-ever World Cup win.

Cometh the hour. Cometh the Reggae Girl.

Even when you have all the chances and all the momentum, a football match can sometimes not go your way.

After Jamaica dominated the first half against Panama, but went into the dressing room with the score level at 0-0, there was a vibe. A sense that perhaps this was not going to be their day.

The Reggae Girlz 12 shots and 0.56 xG, in that half, was laudable. It vastly outstripped what they produced in their previous match against France over 90 minutes (six shots and 0.29 xG). And it was all without the irreplaceable Khadija Shaw, who was missing through suspension.

But it was enough. It wasn’t enough to take have Drew Spence cracking the crossbar from range, or Tiffany Cameron snatching chances wide after beating Panama left-back Carina Baltrip-Reyes.

As the second half kicked off, someone had to step up. History isn’t made if no one takes responsibility. Who was going to keep their head in the box. Literally.

Ladies, thems and gentlemen: I give you, Allyson Swaby.

11 minutes after the break, Trudi Carter floated in a corner kick to the edge of the six-yard box. Jamaica captain Swaby judged the flight of the ball perfectly. She nestled into a pocket of space, leapt above a cohort of Panama defenders, and glanced the ball past goalkeeper Yenith Bailey.

Allyson Swaby (right) wheels away after nodding in the first-ever World Cup match-winning goal for Jamaica

Scenes. Ecstasy. For the first time in over 200 minutes of football, Swaby lost her composure in Australia. Elation took over. And fair play. Not a bad time to lose it really.

I mean, who can keep a level head when you’ve just scored your country’s second-ever women’s World Cup goal? The first-ever match-winning goal in Jamaican World Cup history, to beat Panama 1-0.

Even one of the most serene centrebacks at the 2023 World Cup should be expected to explode like a firework. The Jamaica captain wheeled off to her teammates on the sideline, shrieking “let’s go” and punched the air franticly.

The Jamaica players fizzed and crackled with joy as they embraced. A special mention has to go out to the staff member who had a Shaw jersey ready to go aloft in the celebrations. A tribute to a fallen comrade. Wonderfully dramatic.

The Jamaica players, complete with a Shaw shirt, celebrate Swaby’s goal

Swaby’s historic header was one of just two shots on target that Jamaica fashioned in the second half. A rare moment of attacking composure in a match that was frenetic from the first whistle until the last.

On one hand, it was encouraging to see Jamaica freely creating chances and taking 20 shots. On the other, it was telling that when they got into the Panama box, composure couldn’t be found. The Shaw-sized absence in the attack intensified.

Kayla McKenna, who started at centre forward in place of Shaw, struggled to offer much presence or finesse. She finished the match with zero shots. The one time Jody Brown played her through, one-on-one with Bailey, a heavy touch sent her far and away from the goal. Forlorn, she was unable to reignite the opportunity.

Had Swaby not risen to the challenge of being Jamaica’s “clutch” player then the conversation surrounding this match could have been vastly different.

How can Jamaica win matches without Shaw? Are the Reggae Girlz a one-woman team?

Bunny Shaw watches on from the sidelines as she serves her suspension

Instead, the Reggae Girlz, the green and gold faithful in HBF stadium in Perth, and the entire nation of Jamaica will spend a long time celebrating a first-ever World Cup win.

Moreover, Swaby should be in contention to be the centreback of the tournament if she keeps up this performance level. It’s hard to think of a better leader. Someone who knows how to communicate with her teammates. When a level-head is needed, when fire in the belly is required.

Right now, Jamaica are one of just five nations who are yet to concede a goal after two matches. England, Switzerland, Japan, and Spain are the other four. They also boast the best defensive record of any of Concacaf nations in the tournament.

Alongside Swaby, her sister and centreback partner Chantelle has been rugged. Unfazed. Left back Deneisha Blackwood has also been outstanding, freely putting in challenges across the breadth of the pitch. They should not be underestimated as a defensive unit.

Whilst Swaby’s defensive statistics in Australia & New Zealand don’t jump off the page, it really is her leadership qualities and positioning that have helped make Jamaica a contender.

Yes, her tackle win rate (0%) doesn’t look great but she’s also had zero errors and turned over just 22% of her total passes. Clearing the ball and winning 71% of her headers has been her bread and butter. It’s not always glamourous.

Watch Swaby command her defensive third and you’ll notice the response she gets from her teammates is one of her finest skills. It can be difficult to measure the ability to shift teammates around or keep people focused. One would have to make a case for xDI (expected defensive influence) to be drawn up by some analytics expert.

Amazingly, now a draw against Brazil on Matchday Three would guarantee Jamaica a spot in the Round of 16. At the expense of the South Americans.

Shaw will be ready to suit up in that match. And with Swaby behind her, anything can happen.