FIFA Women's World Cup: Canada right at home in Montreal
Quebec players confident for crucial Monday match vs. Netherlands
When the Canadian women's soccer team steps onto the Olympic Stadium turf on Monday night, three players from Quebec will enjoy an experience they've been looking forward to for a long time.
Josee Belanger of Coaticook, Que., Marie-Eve Nault of Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Rhian Wilkinson of Pointe-Claire, Que., have been dreaming of wearing the Maple Leaf in front of friends and family.
They'll get that chance when Canada faces The Netherlands in the last group stage match for both sides at the FIFA Women's World Cup. The last time the Canadian women's team played in Quebec was in the early 2000s.
"It's neat to come and play in Montreal because it doesn't happen very often," said Belanger. "I have about 125 people coming to Montreal for the game ... friends, my family, some kids that I've coached.
"I just want to make my family and all Quebec happy and proud to come out and support the national team."
The three Quebecers may feel the butterflies a little more than their teammates, but Nault said having been through the tournament opener in Edmonton last week will help control the emotions.
"In Montreal, it'll be a little less emotional because we'll know what to expect," she said. "But it's really something special to be in your native province in front of your family and friends."
Belanger is the lone Quebecer to see playing time thus far. Wilkinson and Nault were hampered by injuries during preparations for the event.
Usually a forward, Belanger has been playing right fullback, which she doesn't mind at all.
"I'm enjoying it even if it's kind of strange to hear a forward say they like playing defence," said Belanger. "I found my true spot.
"And now I can play an important role on the defensive side as well as moving up to support the attack. It's the best of both worlds."
Canada leads Group A with four points. The Netherlands and China have three points each and New Zealand is last with one point.
Coach John Herdman's side controls its own destiny against the Dutch. China and New Zealand will face each other at the same time Monday in Winnipeg.
A win would give Canada first place in the group. But a loss or a tie would complicate matters, forcing a game against a group winner later on as well as adding more travel to the host team's schedule.
The Netherlands has allowed only one goal in two matches, and also has some strong offensive players, especially on counter-attacks.
If Canada takes first place, it will play one of the third-place teams next Sunday in the round of 16. If Canada is second, it will play next Saturday against the second-place team in Group C, probably Switzerland.
If they lose and finish third, they are unlikely to be eliminated because they already have four points, but they may have to face a world power like Germany or Japan in the round of 16.
"There's no question we'd prefer to have six points right now," said Nault, whose team drew 0-0 with New Zealand on Thursday in Edmonton. "We've been a bit lucky because in our first game (a 1-0 win over China) we got a late goal on a penalty.
"But we learned a few things in the first two games. We did some good things too. We had good chances. Unfortunately, we weren't opportunistic. That's what we need to work on for the next game."