Canada exits Women's World Cup with 3 losses

Canada closed out its campaign at the FIFA Women's World Cup with a 1-0 loss to Nigeria on Tuesday, the Canadians' third consecutive setback of the tournament.
Nigeria's Faith Ikidi, left, and Canada's Jonelle Filigno, challenge for the ball during Tuesday's match. (Petr David Josek/Associated Press)

Canada closed out its campaign at the FIFA Women's World Cup with a 1-0 loss to Nigeria Tuesday in Dresden, Germany.

Nigeria's Perpetua Nkwocha scored the winning goal in the 84th minute, just moments after the resumption of play following a power failure inside the Rudolf-Harbig Stadium.

Play was halted in the 74th minute when the stadium's lights went out.

The Canadians dropped a 2-1 decision to Germany in their opening match of the tournament on July 26, and the team was eliminated four days later when it was thumped 4-0 by France.

Like Canada, Nigeria was also eliminated from contention after suffering a pair of losses, resulting in Tuesday's "dead match" with nothing on the line.

Main storyline

Tutto fumo e niente arrosto — all smoke and no roast. This quirky Italian proverb perfectly sums up the current state of the Canadian women's team.

Coached by Italian-born Carolina Morace, Canada arrived in Germany to great fanfare with expectations of grandeur and a quarter-final berth seen as a mere formality.

We were promised a fine football feast by the Canadian team, ranked sixth in the world. In the end, we had to settle for table scraps, the last few crumbs coming in the form Tuesday's loss to the Africans, ranked 26th in the world.

The match in Dresden was a final chance for the Canadians to salvage a bit of pride, an opportunity to let them leave Germany with their heads high, and to give success-starved soccer supporters back home something — anything! — to cheer about.

The occasion called for the women to assert themselves right from the opening kickoff, especially after bowing out of the tournament following losses in their opening two matches.

Instead, they delivered more uninspiring play.

Morace was universally hailed by her players and the media in the build-up to this tournament for the way she turned around the women's program — the inference being that she was able to walk on water and pull off miracles on par with the loaves and fishes.

No doubt, the Italian did a masterful job of transforming the team from route-one merchants to players who, at times, demonstrated brief flashes of technical and attacking brilliance in the months leading up to the World Cup.

However, not enough progress was made, and the team's weak-willed and heartless performance in Germany requires that the brutal truth be laid bare. So here it is: Canada is simply not good enough.

Where does the team go from here? It's an interesting question, especially with the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament slated to take place in January in Vancouver.

The easiest thing to do would be to change coaches. Despite the team falling flat on its face in Germany, the Canadian Soccer Association must resist the temptation to fire Morace and keep the faith with their embattled coach and allow her to continue with her tactical revolution.

But serious questions must be asked of the Italian after she was given everything she wanted by the CSA to prepare for the World Cup, including having a four-month residency camp for the players in Rome.

Morace has made three changes to her starting lineup, with defender Marie-Eve Nault and forward Melissa Tancredi replacing Christina Julien and Brittany Timko. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod also gave way to veteran Karina Le Blanc, who earned her 89th cap for Canada.

Le Blanc, a 31-year-old veteran from Maple Ridge, B.C., has been a member of the national team since 1998, and this is her fourth — and possibly — last World Cup appearance. A loyal national team servant such as LeBlanc deserved better on this day.

Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt carved out early scoring chances, but Canada rode its luck as Nigeria twice hit the woodwork before the halftime whistle.

Nigeria continued to press in the second half, and the breakthrough came in the 84th minute when the ball fell kindly to Nkwocha and she slotted it by LeBlanc.

The power failure meant there were 14 minutes of injury time, an act of cruelty that prolonged Canada's suffering.

The turning point

Even though they were being outplayed, Canada was still in the game when the lights went out. When they came back on, Nkwocha quickly struck to turn the lights off on the Canadians for good.

Save of the match

LeBlanc made several big saves, including one on Nkwocha from close range in the opening minutes of the match.

Player of the match

LeBlanc. If not for the efforts of the veteran goalkeeper, Canada could have suffered a heavier loss.

The Canadian perspective

"For sure we have to re-start, we have to understand what was the problem," coach Carolina Morace told CBC Sports after the match.