While 10 members of France's women's soccer team were hoisting a Champions League trophy back in May, Canada's women's team was training in virtual seclusion in Rome.
The Canadians arrived at the FIFA Women's World Cup riding high hopes, having spent four months in Italy training, bonding and soaking up the Azurri soccer culture. But when the World Cup whistle blew, it became abundantly clear the one thing missing was games, say the players.
"It's something we have to go back and look at obviously," said veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. "We thought coming out of preparation that we did the right thing, so we have to go back and look at it. Games are great and also time together is great so you have to find the balance.
"I'm sure our coaching staff will figure out what's best for us for the Olympics and Olympic qualifying hopefully down the road."
The sixth-ranked Canadians were expected to at least make it out of the group stage but were crushed 4-0 by seventh-ranked France after losing 2-1 to Germany. The French, whose roster includes 10 members who play together year-round with Champions League winner Olympique Lyon, maintained their poise. The Canadians just looked panicked.
Coach Carolina Morace groused after the game about the lack of a Canadian pro league that realistically isn't happening any time soon.
There is no underestimating the value of regular games, the players said. There's no way to reproduce crowds of thousands, and no way to practise keeping your cool when everything's on the line.
"We as players, we want to be together more but we want to be together in an environment where we can play more games, where we are comfortable with being a goal up, being a goal down, just dealing with those things that are part of soccer," LeBlanc said.
"That's one of the things we recognized we need to get more of."
Captain Christine Sinclair was one of four Canadians who opted to remain with her WPS club team rather than attend the entire Rome camp.
"Obviously we don't have the ideal situation," Sinclair said. "I think we were the only country for the most part that did a residency heading into this World Cup, and ideally your players are playing in some sort of league close to home, and your coach can monitor how players are doing."
The camp model appeared to be working, lifting Canada to a record of 10 wins, a draw and two losses this year. But most of those games were friendlies played in front of a mere handful of people.
The Canadian Soccer Association lists attendance for last month's win over South Korea at 50 people. Versus the Netherlands and Switzerland: 25 spectators. A pitiful crowd of 15 saw the Canadians beat Scotland at the Cyprus Cup.
"You can see it on the field, they have the chemistry, they have the game fitness, they know how to win important matches," midfielder Kaylyn Kyle said of France.
It remains to be seen whether a similar camp will be held leading into the Olympic qualifying tournament in January in Vancouver, where Canada, the United States and Mexico will be the favourites to clinch one of the two berths up for grabs.
But with one World Cup game remaining — the Canadians play No. 27 Nigeria on Tuesday in Dresden — now is not the time to "sit down and gut it out," LeBlanc said.
"In a week from now we have to sit down and look in the mirror and ask, what do we have to do differently to make this better?" the 'keeper added. "All these questions you've asked, we've asked ourselves. This was disappointing on many levels."
Morace, who fought long and hard with the Canadian Soccer Association for control her team — at one point announcing she would resign after the World Cup — said the Rome camp was necessary for a program that doesn't have a domestic pro league to fall back on.
"If we don't have a league I can't see another solution," Morace said. "The solution is to stay together and play more games, but to do this, we need money, it is a problem, and you have to consider also, it's a lot of sacrifice to do that, for the players, for the staff. .."
Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Italy all have professional leagues. Plus, the U.S. has the WPS, which Sinclair, Candace Chapman, Sophie Schmidt and Kelly Parker all play in.
Canada has eight squads playing in the 27-team W-League, but that circuit is semi-professional and just runs through the summer.
"I've played in the W-League [Ottawa Fury], but financially if I wanted to continue playing I had to leave, and that's too bad," said veteran midfielder Rhian Wilkinson. "I'm a proud Canadian, and I think it's sad that I can't play at home.
"I don't know if [a domestic league] is realistic, and I don't care. As a soccer player, I'm just saying it would be nice to play at home."
Wilkinson, 29, played for five years in Norway.
The 31-year-old LeBlanc has criss-crossed North America playing for five different pro teams.
"It's tough to say that it's tough because we are living our dreams, but I haven't lived in one city for more than maybe a year or two," LeBlanc said. "That is the difficult part. It's tough because you don't have that base, you're chasing your dreams and you have to sacrifice a lot for it, hence us being in Italy for so long."
The Canadians wrap up their heart-breaking World Cup campaign Tuesday in Dresden, where the persistent drizzling rain and cloudy skies over the past two days have matched the players' moods.
"Obviously we're still a little bit down about everything that's happened," said Jonelle Filigno. "I think this game is really a game to prove to our country and the world and mostly to ourselves that we're so much better than that, and we're so much more capable than what we showed on the field."
The team sat down to watch the video of the France game.
"Not one of my favourites, but we took what we could from it," said goalkeeper Erin McLeod. "I know right now it's very easy to be negative, it's hard to be positive, but you're tested when you're at your bottom."