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Olympics2012Canada's soccer women need 'ruthless' attitude in London

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2012 | 12:31 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman believes his team needs a nasty streak in order to contend for an Olympic medal in London. (Rich Lam/Getty Image) Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman believes his team needs a nasty streak in order to contend for an Olympic medal in London. (Rich Lam/Getty Image)

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Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman believes his team needs a nasty streak in order to contend for an Olympic medal in London.
Preparing for the Olympics can be an isolating experience. All of your focus, energy and effort are directed at one thing as the culmination of four years of work comes to a climax. So, it's easy to get lost in that space and news from the outside world doesn't always filter in.

At least that's the way it's been for John Herdman, the head coach of the Canadian women's soccer team, these past few months. So involved in the preparation of his own team, he hadn't even gotten word about Hope Solo, the star goaltender for the American national team testing positive for a banned substance.

"Do you know something? I haven't even read that in the media. Honestly, I have really just had my head in this team - in the clouds in the Swiss Alps if you will - and nothing else," Herdman said.

After a short briefing from this reporter, to bring him up to speed on the positive test and how Solo was eventual cleared of any wrongdoing, he offered up a very political, mostly tight-tipped response.

"Hope Solo is a tremendous role model."

Given there is a good chance Canada will face the Americans in the knockout rounds, this was likely a case of a coach ensuring he wasn't going to give an opponent any chalkboard material. It's also possible that he has only one thing on his mind right now - Canada's first opponent and reigning world champions, Japan.

We'll be playing the Barcelona or Spain of women's football. The teams that have been successful against them have had to win it quite ugly. And we'll be no different. We have to find a way to win against that team," Herdman said.

"I have been clear with the players, we're not putting the pressure on them to win that game, we're putting the pressure on them to get a result. And against the world champions, we may have to do that ugly. If that means changing our style, being defensive and aggressive and direct when we have to, then that's what we'll do."

That will be a big task for a squad that finds itself suddenly as a small fish in the ever growing pond of women's soccer. Listening to Herdman speak about his team though, you get the sense he is grounded in that reality but isn't wiling to concede that they can't be more.

"Listen, I think we've got to believe we can go to the podium. But I think the girls know that they have to perform above their best in some of those games. We know that there is something in there. If we get this team absolutely connecting - mentally, emotionally and tactically - they can do something. I don't just believe that, I know it."

Two key points for Olympic success

To accomplish what most are considering unimaginable at this point, Herdman will be looking to two things from his squad. The first is his bulldog in the midfield, Diana Matheson, to continue along her torrid pace.

"She epitomizes what I think this shirt is about. She is five-foot something but plays like she is seven foot. She is a real inspiration to her teammates," Herdman said. "I think what's been cool with Diana is that she has been put into a formal leadership position and within that role she is really rising. We have to rise with her."

The second thing Herdman is looking for from Canada is something they learned from a recent 2-1 loss to Brazil - one where Christine Sinclair equalized in extra time only to have their opponents march right back down the field and steal the win. As the Canadians were left wondering what happened, Brazilian star Marta and the entire team celebrated in front of the Canadian bench.

"I think what happened there is Marta happened. She is the Lionel Messi of women's football. When she wants to do something, she has the ability to just go out there and do it. And there is very little her opponents can do to stop it," explained Herdman.

But aside from learning what the world already knows - Marta is on a planet of her own most days - Herdman said this was a lesson in what it takes to succeed.

"We knew after that she probably could have been stopped. And the way that we could have gone about it wasn't necessarily going to be legal. I'm not advocating unfair play and unsporting behaviour but I think it was a great lesson for us to learn heading into this Olympics."

His final words of the interview were those of a man whose head was no longer in the clouds of the Swiss Alps but firmly on the ground in England, where hard tackles are a way of life.

"The lesson from Brazil and the lesson for all of us if we want to medal in London is that we have to play for keeps. We have to be - and we will be - absolutely ruthless in finding a way to win."

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