FIFA Women's World Cup: Canada lacks knockout experience

It seemed like a dream scenario for Canada's Women's World Cup team to advance to the semifinals when they played England in the quarter-finals Saturday in Vancouver, but the team's lack of experience in knockout play did them in.

Team needs more high-pressure encounters

A disconsolate Canadian women's soccer team leaves the pitch at BC Place after losing in a quarter-final knockout match to England. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

It seemed like a dream scenario for Canada's Women's World Cup team to advance to the semifinals when they played England in the quarter-finals Saturday in Vancouver, but the team's lack of experience in knockout play did them in.

In 23 matches over six Women's World Cups, Canada has only been in position to advance directly on the strength of a single match on five occasions — four if you count the 2003 bronze-medal game, where the outcome decided whether they would finish third or fourth.

Despite a record crowd of over 54,000 at B.C. Place in Vancouver and confidence in a defence that had only allowed one goal in the tournament in four games, Canada was done in by missed opportunities and a three-minute span where England scored two goals — one more than Canada could muster despite a considerable edge in play. Knockout play is something you have to withstand and the more times you face the intensity the better your team will handle it.

Canada's 2015 squad — a mixture of over-30 experienced players and rising, potentially talented youngsters — had the host-country advantage and the guidance of a meticulous, innovative coach in John Herdman, who had already delivered a 2002 Olympic bronze medal in London.

What they lacked was a backlog of performing in pressure-packed knockout games where a mistake, a bad bounce, whatever, can ruin years of preparation. Ranked No. 8 in the world, Canada probably lived up to expectations, but you know Herdman and the players believe they could have advanced even further.

"They gave their best. And our best just wasn't good enough," said Herdman. "If we'd went all the way, we were punching well above our weight but I believe this team had the spirit to do it."

Here's a recap of Canada's previous Women's World Cup experiences, tournament by tournament:

  • 1995 Sweden: Canada played three first-round games, losing two and tying one. Helen Stoumbos scored Canada's first World Cup goal, in the 87th minute of 3-2 loss to England, which scored twice on penalty kicks. Canada had a 3-1 lead in their second match, but settled for a 3-3 draw with Nigeria. They were drubbed 7-0 by Norway in their final match.
  • 1999 U.S.: Similar results four years later in the United States. Canada tied Japan 1-1, but lost 7-1 to Norway and 4-1 to Russia.
  • 2003 U.S.: This time Canada advanced out of the group stage on the strength of two wins. After a 4-1 loss to Germany to open the tournament, Canada had two goals from Christine Latham and one from Charmaine Hooper in a 3-0 victory over Argentina. Then Latham, a 20-year-old Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang provided the goals in a 3-1 triumph over Japan. Next came Canada's first-ever knockout match, a 1-0 win over China thanks to Charmaine Hooper's goal just seven minutes into the game. In the semifinals, Lang gave Canada the lead in the second half against Sweden, but Canada allowed two late goals to fall in the bronze-medal match against the United States. In that game, Sinclair tied it at 1-1 but the U.S. scored twice more to claim third place.
  • 2007 China: A win, a draw and a loss saw Canada fall one point short of qualifying for the second round. Candace Chapman gave Canada a 1-0 lead against Norway but they lost 2-1. Christine Sinclair had a pair of goals, while Sophie Schmidt and Martina Franko also scored in a 4-0 win over Ghana. In their final group match a Melissa Tancredi goal in the first minute and one by Sinclair in the 85th had Canada in position to advance, but Australia earned a draw, scoring two minutes into added time to finish with five points in the group stage, one more than Canada.
  • 2011 Germany: High hopes were quickly dashed with a 2-1 loss to the host Germans. Sinclair, playing with a broken nose, scored the lone Canadian marker. Then the tournament went downhill from there. France routed Canada 4-0, followed by a 1-0 defeat to Nigeria.
  • 2015 Canada: Undefeated in the group stage, Canada edged China on Sinclair's penalty kick, drew 0-0 with New Zealand, then drew again with the Netherlands, 1-1, surrendering a late goal. With a 24-team format for the first time in tournament history, Canada advanced to the round of 16 as the top team in Group A and faced Switzerland in their first World Cup knockout game in 12 years. Josee Belanger scored the only goal of the match early in the second half, setting up Canada's quarter-final match, the knockout decider against England. 

After it was over, Herdman asked for fans to "stick with us. We'll be back, we'll be back fighting strong. We'll learn from this."

The key will be building upon their knockout game experience.

With files from The Canadian Press


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