Canada impressive in women's friendly
Rome was not built in a day, but Carolina Morace has done a pretty good job rebuilding the Canadian women's national soccer team.
Not so long ago, Canada was one of the top sides in the women's game, but it took a giant step backward when it bowed out in the first round of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Since taking over as coach in early 2009, the Venice-born Morace has whipped Team Canada into shape, instilling the virtues of maintaining possession and playing one-touch soccer.
Canada's renaissance continued Thursday in the form of a convincing 3-1 win over China in an international friendly at Toronto's BMO Field.
Diana Matheson, Melissa Tancredi and Christine Sinclair scored for Canada, which played its first game on home soil since suffering a 4-0 loss to the United States last May.
Thursday's match was used by Morace as a tune-up for next month's CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier, an eight-team competition for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
The tournament, scheduled for Oct. 28 to Nov. 8, will see Canada compete in Group A with hosts Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana. The tournament finalists will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the third-place team will meet a European qualifier in a two-game playoff for the right to travel to Germany.
On the occasion of Canada's final warmup match prior to the tournament in Mexico, Morace fielded a starting lineup peppered with experience and youth.
Canada's attacking 4-3-3 formation was spearheaded by veterans Sinclair and Tancredi, alongside youngster Josee Belanger. The trio wreaked havoc on the Chinese defence, feeding off the sublime service of veteran midfielder Diana Matheson.
While Matheson supplied the skill in midfield, youngster Kaylyn Kyle provided the steel, running herself ragged as she chased down countless balls and winning back possession from the Chinese.
In the centre of defence, another youngster, Emily Zurrer, was sure-footed and a figure of strength, forming an effective partnership with veteran Candice Chapman.
Canada, currently ranked No. 13 in the FIFA world rankings —one spot ahead of China — was well-organized at the back, strong in midfield and fast in attack.
All of which bodes well ahead of the team's trip to Mexico. Of course, there is still room for improvement. Morace was pleased with the effort of her players, but explained they have to learn to see the entire field and not always look to make the obvious pass.
"We have to use more of our brains. Soccer is more about the brain [than] the body," Morace said.
This Canadian team, in particular Sinclair, has speed to burn, and is a lot quicker that it used to be. The credit for that goes to Morace and her demanding training regime.
"She's whipped us into shape," admitted Sinclair. "She's brought a completely different method of training and we work a lot on explosiveness and speed work."
The game started with the teams trading scoring chances in the second minute. Sinclair's header from 12 yards out was cleared off the goal-line, leading to a rush the other way just seconds later. Xu Yuan sprinted down the right flank, skipping past the Canadian defence before forcing a finger-tip save by goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
Canada continued to press and broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute when Matheson slotted a shot home after a receiving a great pass from Sinclair.
Canada should have taken the lead into the halftime break, but Chinese midfielder Zhang Na's shot from 35 yards out somehow slipped through the hands and between the legs of LeBlanc before trickling over the goal-line.
The second half was all Canada.
Tancredi restored her team's lead in the 65th minute, beating Chinese goalkeeper Zhang Yanru at the near post. Sinclair struck three minutes later, taking a defence-splitting pass from Kara Lang before slotting it home.
It was an impressive performance by Canada that, unfortunately, went largely unnoticed. An announced crowd of 5,427 fans filled the seats, with both ends of the stadium and the upper tier of the west stand completely empty.
The Canadian team has qualified for the World Cup four times, reaching the semifinals in 2003.
Canada begins play at the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier on Oct. 29 versus Trinidad and Tobago (streamed live on CBCSports.ca, 6 pm ET).