Canadians hope to salvage win at Women's World Cup
The Canadian women's soccer team is just hoping to salvage something from a World Cup campaign that has gone horribly wrong.
The sixth-ranked Canadians face No. 27 Nigeria on Tuesday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2:30 p.m. ET) in the final game of this tournament for both winless teams, and all they can really do now is show fans — and themselves — what might have been.
"This last game will be all about character and pride, so we'd better show up," said Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod. "We are devastated that we lost against France and by that much.
"For us, it's about proving that we belong here, that we deserve to be No. 6 in the world, it's not a fluke and we have to go out and prove to ourselves and to Canada that we're a lot better than we were that day."
Canada arrived in Germany riding a high with its best-ever world ranking, a CONCACAF title and near-perfect record this year. The tournament got off to a reasonably strong start in Berlin when captain Christine Sinclair scored in a 2-1 loss to two-time defending champion Germany, the first World Cup goal the mighty Germans had conceded since 2003.
But the tournament took a horrible turn in Bochum, where Les Bleues steamrolled over the Canadians in a 4-0 rout to effectively end their World Cup campaign.
"Very disappointed," said coach Carolina Morace. "It's like you work hard for two years and something happened and you can't do anything. I can't say that [the players] don't sacrifice, or the staff doesn't sacrifice. Of course we as a staff, we immediately had a meeting, and said, 'OK, what can we do to do something more? The reaction is to do better, to do more. What do we have to add to help them to do more?"'
The Italian coach and her staff will try to figure that out following Tuesday's game. For now, the Canadians face a Nigerian team that has played little like its world ranking, letting in just two goals in losses to Germany and France.
"It's awful to regret something and I feel we did not show ourselves, our country, our fans, how we can play, and that's what I want to do, I want to play Nigeria and leave it all on the field," said veteran defender Rhian Wilkinson. "I want everyone to leave that field knowing they gave everything they had, and be proud of themselves. That's what I'm hoping to get out of that Nigeria game."
This World Cup campaign marks the latest unexpected turn in what's been a tumultuous season for the Canadian women.
Morace announced in February she would quit after Germany, citing a lack of control over her team, and her players threatened to boycott in support. The players also hired lawyers to negotiate a new financial deal for themselves. Both issues were resolved literally days before the World Cup opened.
Given Morace's trials and tribulations with the Canadian Soccer Association, it remains to be seen how this performance will play out in her tug-of-war with the sport's national governing body.
"It's a disappointment for everybody in terms of, we know how hard they had trained and collectively how hard they had all worked," said Peter Montopoli, the CSA's general secretary. "It's disappointing for all but we're all in this together and we'll move forward from this."
On what the next few months hold, Montopoli said: "I think we all need a debrief and then we'll go from there."
Tuesday's game, at Rudolf Harbig Stadion, marks the last time we'll see Canada's women's team for a while. They'll gather again in September to begin preparations for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver in January. A berth in the 2012 London Games is by no means a given.
The players say ending this tournament on some semblance of a high note is crucial moving forward.
"No we don't get to advance in this tournament, but we do get to leave a lasting impression on this tournament, for our fans here and at home, and for ourselves, I think it's important to end this tournament on a good moment," Wilkinson said.
The days since the big blowout in Bochum have felt more like a funeral than a sporting event, the players' moods mirrored by the unrelenting rain, wind and dreary overcast skies that have hovered over the otherwise picturesque city of Dresden.
"We took a day to be sulky and really cry and just understand what a big moment we let slip by," Wilkinson said. "You'd think you're getting over it and then you'd get this mental image of the game …argh… you could see people get these outbursts of anger and frustration, remembering a missed tackle or bad position, and regretting it. That's how my sulky day went… walking and then taking off my shoe and throwing it at a wall.
"You never want to have regrets, We're never going to forget that game."
The 47-year-old Morace hasn't wasted many words in motivating her players for their game against Nigeria. The exacting coach, who's not a fan of rah-rah speeches, said they must draw on their own personal strength.
"They have to have something inside of them, the coach could motivate the player but there is something that all players have to have inside," the Italian coach said. "If you want to do high-level sport, you have to have something inside. They have shown me on many occasions on these two years. Now they have to show the same, but not for me, for the country, for themselves, and they want to show something."
The coach said she won't make any significant roster adjustments for Nigeria, and Sinclair is fine to play, with her protective face mask that looks like something out of "The Phantom of the Opera." Sinclair had her nose broken in the team's opener against Germany, and then was smacked in the face against France, leaving her with a black eye that's grown increasingly dark over the past few days.
Morace said she'll likely stick with Erin McLeod in net, the 'keeper who backstopped Canada in the previous two games.
Morace has changed the Canadians' style of play since her hiring in 2009, taking a team known for it's kick-and-run game of playing long balls, to more of a finesse, possession style. The Canadians showed little of what they'd learned however against France, as panic set in as soon as they went a goal down.
The coach has told them not to worry so much about playing "the beautiful game" against Nigeria. Just play to win.
"I know that they know perfectly our tactical movements, but I think this match is nothing tactical, it's just about the physical," Morace said. "It's about what you have inside, it's just to fight physically."
FIFA officials said that about 15,500 tickets had been sold for the game as of Monday afternoon.
Rudolf Harbig Stadion in Dresden was rebuilt in 2009, replacing the structure which had previously stood there for over 100 years and survived the bombing that almost completely levelled the city centre in 1945, at the end of the Second World War.
The 25,598-seat stadium — square in the traditional Euro football style rather than oval — is home to the third division club Dynamo Dresden.