Expectations are running high amongst the Canadian national team ahead of this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
Canada enters the tournament as continental champions, having won the CONCACAF championship last November in Mexico for the first time since 1998. This is, by most accounts, the best Canadian women's side in the history of the team, a deep roster brimming with world-class players such as veteran Christine Sinclair and a crop of exciting youngsters, most notably Katelyn Kyle.
Hardly a surprise, then, that coach Carolina Morace's team has Canadian soccer fans talking. But what's interesting is that several of the game's biggest and most accomplished international stars have taken notice of Canada, and feel the CONCACAF champions will be legitimate contenders in Germany.
Brazilian forward Marta, the reigning five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, became convinced of Canada 's credentials last December. The Canadians ventured to Brazil where it drew the host nation in a match en route to winning the Internacional Cidade de São Paulo, a prestigious four nations tournament,
Marta has great respect for Canada, especially Sinclair — the two are teammates, playing alongside each other on the Western New York Flash in the Women's Pro Soccer League.
"We know the quality that [Canada] has and they showed that in the international tournament in Sao Paulo and we had real trouble beating them, in fact we didn't win and only tied 2-2," Marta told CBC Sports. "We know that it is a team that can go very far in the World Cup and we will have to be careful with Sinclair, as she is a person that I know and is a great player."
Another of Sinclair's Flash teammates, Caroline Seger, also expects big things from Canada at the World Cup. The Swedish midfielder has been impressed how Morace has tactically transformed the Canadian team, instilling the virtues of maintaining possession and playing one-touch soccer, as opposed to one-dimensional style that emphasized the long ball under previous coach Even Pellerud.
"Canada is a great team and that's a team that I want to see make it… [and] go far in the World Cup because I've seen their development," said Seger, who is Sinclair's roommate on the road with the Flash.
Another of Sinclair's New York teammates, New Zealand's Ali Riley, is also a fan of Canada's possession game.
"Canada, their development has been so impressive," stated Riley. "And of course [Christine Sinclair is] just so unbelievable and I think we always want to see [Canada] do well, especially since they've changed their game so much. It would be great to see a team like that succeed." In fact, Riley believes one of the ways for the women's game to move forward and attract a larger audience is for more teams to follow Canada's example
"I think that will bring more fans in as well, because no matter who wins, if the fans see great soccer they will follow us more and they will love it," Riley opined.
Canada poses a threat
Abby Wambach knows all about Canada. The American forward has played against the Canadians several times during her career and thinks they will be a dangerous team in Germany.
"They pose a threat," Wambach said. "They have a tough group in the World Cup, however, I think if they do what they are capable of [and] play their style their game, I think they could [give] a couple of teams in this tournament some trouble."
Canada faces a tough task on the first day of the tournament, as it is slated to play the hosts and two-time defending champions in Berlin before an expected audience of 70,000 spectators.
Germany is the heavy favourite to win that match, but German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer is not expecting an easy time of it.
"The Canadian team has got better and better the last years," said Angerer. "So we really respect them a lot, and we won't go to the game and say 'oh, it's no problem, we're going to win anyway', no absolutely not. We won't underestimate them at all."