Canada at Women's World Cup: In it to win it
Kara Lang writes the Canadians have a legitimate shot at winning the tournament
Kara Lang played for the Canadian women's team, scoring 34 goals in 91 appearances, before announcing her retirement last November due to knee problems. She is currently a soccer commentator for Rogers Sportsnet.
This year's FIFA Women's World Cup is set to be the biggest and most exciting yet.
With Germany pouring loads of money, time, and energy into the event over the last two years, it's already achieved an unprecedented level of awareness around the world. Tickets are selling out (over 73,000 have been sold for Canada's opening match against Germany in Berlin) and sponsors are foaming at the mouth to have their names attached to this tournament and its stars.
The level of media and sponsor attention the teams and players are receiving is unlike any other previous tournament. There's a lot of hype surrounding this event, and for good reason. There's no doubt that it's going to be an entertaining three weeks.
For the first time in women's soccer, players are beginning to be treated more like the world-class athletes they are. This is no longer a FIFA tournament with an invisible, though very apparent asterisk next to "Women's World Cup". The world is starting to recognize that this is a World Cup. Period. It just happens to feature women.
Football fans, male and female, not just people that want to support the women's game, but true fans of the game itself will be tuning in.
The women's game has drastically changed over the last few years — no longer can you predict the knockout round like clockwork. The dominant teams; Germany, Brazil and the U.S have their work cut out for them.
Countries such as Norway, Sweden, France, Japan, Mexico, and Canada have all made enormous strides in the last few years to close the gap. Almost every team is a contender in this tournament, and Canadian fans here at home should be gearing up to watch their women's team make a great run in Germany.
Since the hiring of coach Carolina Morace in 2009, the Canadian women have had arguably their most successful period in their history, as evidenced by Canada's most recent FIFA ranking of sixth in the world.
After winning the World Cup qualifying tournament in 2010 — winning all five games without conceding a single goal - they've posted a record of 10 wins, one draw and two losses so far in 2011. The team's most recent win against North Korea on June 14th, the team's final friendly before the opening match of the tournament, marked Morace's 25th win for Canada.
After a rather disappointing 2007 World Cup in China, where the women didn't make it out of their group, this time around they have their hopes set on reaching the finals. It's an ambitious goal, but one that I would argue is absolutely realistic. If there was ever a team that could achieve such aspirations, it's this one.
Morace's influence has undoubtedly changed the style of play (say goodbye to the long ball, say hello to possession!), but she's also brought about subtler changes that are going to help this team achieve success.
The team has adopted a completely new kind of attitude; a winning mentality that wasn't present in Canadian soccer before. One of the ways Morace has carefully crafted this new ethos is by assembling a stellar cast of personnel.
This roster is by far the most well-rounded and talented group Canada has ever produced.
With two extremely capable and experienced goalkeepers in Karina Leblanc and Erin McLeod (both vying for the starting position in Sunday's game), a sturdy and reliable back line lead by Emily Zurrer, a technical and sophisticated midfield directed by Diana Matheson, and the unbelievably dangerous attack of Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and Jonelle Filigno — the Canadian women have the potential to make history in 2011.
The 2003 World Cup saw Canada unexpectedly make it all the way to the semifinals, only to lose 2-1 in a heart-breaking (trust me) game against Sweden.
With the world's eyes on women's soccer — starting on June 26th — this team could very well surpass their previous tournament best of fourth place and change soccer in this country forever.
Bandwagon jumpers: that's your cue!