Two years after Carolina Morace took on the task of transforming Canada's women's soccer team, the players are ready to show the world just how much they've improved.
Canada's prolific striker Christine Sinclair and veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc headline Morace's 21-player roster announced Thursday for the FIFA Women's World Cup that kicks off next week in Germany.
"Personally, I've never felt better heading into a major tournament, I've never felt this well-prepared, and I think it goes for the entire team," Sinclair said on a conference call from Rome.
Canada, ranked an all-time high of sixth, plays the tournament's opening game against No. 2 Germany, the two-time defending World Cup champions, on June 26 in Berlin.
The Canadians enter the tournament as the reigning CONCACAF champions — they didn't concede a goal in five games en route to claiming the title — and boast a near-flawless record of 10-1-2 in matches this year.
The players say they owe their success to Morace. Since she was hired in 2009, the former Italian national team star has taken a squad famous for its love of the long ball under former coach Even Pellerud and implemented a technical, possession-style of game.
"I love it," said Sinclair. "I truly enjoy playing the way she has us playing. And I think our entire team, you can tell everyone is having a lot of fun with it."
Morace, who last week agreed to stick with the Canadian team through the 2012 London Olympics, said she's proud of how well her team has made the transition.
"What I said to them the other day is: I think we have two strengths," Morace said. "One is the organization that we have on the field, and the other one is the predisposition of the players to go to the wall if we ask something."
Sinclair, Canada's captain and all-time leader in international matches with 159, will make her third World Cup appearance. The 28-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., ranks among the top-five all-time leaders in international goals with 116.
The 31-year-old LeBlanc, a native of Maple Ridge, B.C., will make her fourth women's World Cup appearance.
The Canadians, whose best finish in four previous World Cup appearances was fourth in 2003, have been based in Italy since the Cyprus Cup in March, and the benefits they've gained from their time together, LeBlanc said, will be obvious when her team steps onto the sport's biggest stage next week.
"Obviously we're more cohesive as a group," LeBlanc said. "The time together has made us smarter soccer players, more intelligent, and obviously we're fitter, we're stronger, we feel more of a group than ever before.
"Everything that we've learned, that's going to be priceless coming into the World Cup."
Canada's other opening-round Group A matches are against No. 7 France on June 30 in Bochum, and 27th-ranked Nigeria, July 5 in Dresden.
"Obviously having to play German first is very exciting, most people consider them to be the top team in the world, and the favourites in the tournament, they're going to be a very tough team to beat," Sinclair said. "France… is a very good up-and-coming team. And then Nigeria, they're a very athletic team.
"We definitely got drawn into a very, very difficult group, so we're going to have to have three of our best games that we've had yet in order to get out."
Canada's vice-captain is Diana Matheson, who's second among active players with 122 caps. Sinclair, Matheson, Erin McLeod, Brittany Timko (100 caps) and Rhian Wilkinson (100) are all playing in their third World Cup.
In all, the 21-player team has made 1,244 international appearances, averaging 60 matches per player.
Nine players are making their World Cup debut including 20-year-old Jonelle Filigno, the team's youngest player, and 21-year-old Chelsea Stewart.
More than 72,000 tickets have been sold for the much-anticipated Canada-Germany opener at Berlin's historic Olympiastadion.
The tournament includes 16 countries playing in nine cities, and marks 20 years since the inaugural women's World Cup was held in China, the only World Cup Canada's women's team didn't qualify for.
Canada's World Cup roster
Goalkeepers: Karina LeBlanc (Unattached), Erin McLeod (magicJack), Stephanie Labbé (Piteå IF)
Defenders: Emily Zurrer (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Robyn Gayle (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Candace Chapman (Western New York Flash), Brittany Timko (Unattached), Marie-Eve Nault (Ottawa Fury)
Midfielders: Kelly Parker (Atlanta Beat), Carmelina Moscato (Unattached), Kaylyn Kyle (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Rhian Wilkinson (Lillestrøm SK Kvinner), Diana Matheson (Lillestrøm SK Kvinner), Desiree Scott (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Sophie Schmidt (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Chelsea Stewart (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Forwards: Christine Sinclair (Western New York Flash), Melissa Tancredi (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jodi-Ann Robinson (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Jonelle Filigno (Rutgers University), Christina Julien (Ottawa Fury)