On a scorching day in Vancouver there was going to be a special moment for soccer in Canada. Host team Canada was to play in front of another record crowd for soccer in this nation in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup against rivals England. B.C. Place was packed to the rafters and was a sea of red. The atmosphere was as sizzling as the temperature. At issue was the right to play in the semis against defending champs Japan.
They are two sides that know each other very well. Canada and England have played many times over the last 5 years with the games always being tight. Canada won the last one (just before beginning of this tournament) in Hamilton 1-0 on a 1st half dandy goal by Sophie Schmidt. Though this was going to be only the second meeting in the World Cup between the two nations with the last time being in 1995. In the build up to this game England, especially their coach Mark Sampson, made comments about Canada getting home calls and getting away with playing rough. Sampson even went to so far as to mock England-born Canada coach, Mark Herdman, for his aviator sunglasses and tight fitting white shirts. Obviously they a rivalry going and that usually makes for interesting games.
Now that they have gotten to the quarterfinals the pressure is off Canada. They didn’t want to disappoint fans and have gotten to the stage most predicted for the world’s 8th ranked squad. As such, they can play with a sense of freedom now. This despite the fact that for the first time in this tournament Canada was playing a side ranked higher than them.
England, 6th ranked in the world, is not a side without its flaws. Their back four lacks experience and pace. As a team they have scored a lot in the tournament, but have also given up quite a few goals. Some have even called into question the play of keeper Karen Bardsley. Offensively, England is most dangerous on set pieces due to the impeccable placement of Fara Williams.
Herdman decided to go with the same starting line-up as that which beat Switzerland in the Round of 16. The only slight change would be that Josée Bélanger lined up in a more central position. She should be able to use her speed to run at England’s back four. England made two changes to their starting line-up from their previous game against Norway, but stayed in their preferred 4-4-2 formation. The Lionesses, an experienced side who have gotten to this stage of the World Cup the last three time though losing the game each time, came into this game with one day less rest than Canada though due to their efficient rotation of players it should not make a difference.
Canada was in their all red kits while England was in all white. It did not take long for the first bit of excitement to happen in this game. In the 8th minute Schmidt came back to help her fullback Rhian Wilkinson after she was beaten. Schmidt then played the ball along the right side to half to captain Christine Sinclair, who had made an intelligent run. Sinclair then demonstrated her high level of skill by playing the ball through the legs of two England defenders. She quickly lifted her hand switched the ball to the other side of the field perfectly to the feet of Melissa Tancredi. Tancredi cut inside of the one England defender remaining for her to beat. Maybe not realizing how much time and space she had, Tancredi decided to shoot the ball early from just inside the penalty area. Her shot soared over the England net. It was a wasted opportunity of the type that doesn’t happen that often in a soccer game. At the end of this game it was something that everyone would look back upon and wonder “what if?”
Just a few minutes later England struck for the game’s first goal. In the 11th minute one of Canada’s central defenders, Lauren Sesselmann, misplayed the ball just inside her own half. Then she compounded the problem by falling to the turf essentially taking herself out of the play. England’s striker Jodie Taylor pounced on the ball and was further aided when fullback Allysha Chapman slipped. The excellent Kadeisha Buchanan could not get over quick enough and Taylor placed a clinical finish from just inside the box by Erin McLeod on a low shot to the far side of the net. 1-0 England.
A shame that Sesselman made this mistake. Honestly, it was not the first one for her in the tournament the only difference was that McLeod could not bail her out as she had before. Also a shame because Canada had come out with some jump in their boots. This was the best start that they had the entire tournament. Despite their strong play, this was the first time in the tournament that Canada was down. It would be a test of their character. One that they did not react well to.
It was to be a rather rough 3 minutes of the game for the home side. A mere 3 minutes later England was awarded a free kick on the right side roughly 30 yards out. Williams played in a diagonal ball to the back post. Lucy Bronze was able to get to it before Chapman and headed the ball off the underside of the crossbar just over the line. It was a cross and a shot that McLeod normally would stop. She misjudged and misplayed the ball into her area. Two mistakes by Canada and they found themselves down by two 14 minutes into the game. 2-0 England.
It is not overstating it all to say that the next goal in this game would be vital. If England scored it would pretty much be game over as no team in the history of the Women’s World Cup had ever come back from a 2 goal deficit, so 3 would be near impossible. If Canada scored then it would be game on.
In the 28th minute England almost sealed the victory from another dead ball situation. England once again had a free kick. This time it was from the left hand side and about 35 yards out. Once again taken by Williams, it was headed off the crossbar by England’s Katie Chapman. That close to disaster for the Canadians. Crisis averted.
To their credit Canada did not give up after the second goal; they continued to press forward playing their brightest offensive game of the tournament. It is quite fitting that after 5-10 minutes of intense pressure on the England defense that Sinclair scored her 155th goal for her nation to draw Canada back to within one goal.
In the 42 minute, Ashley Lawrence collected a pass from Sinclair outside the England 18 yard box. She reversed direction and put a shot on net. Bardlsey allowed a rebound and Sinclair was there to collect it. She put it in an empty net from in close. With that goal Sinclair is closing in on Mia Hamm (3 goals behind) for 2nd place in the most goals over a career. During her celebration after scoring the goal Sinclair was willing the crowd on to get noisier. They were only too happy to oblige. 2-1 England.
Canada was able to come back in the Olympics to win the bronze medal, so they can do it. They started this game on the front foot and had to start the 2nd half with the same tempo they ended the 1st half with.
In the 50th minute England’s keeper Bardsley goes down. She had a problem with her right eye. It is swollen. They had to sub her out for Siobhan Chamberlain. It was the first World Cup appearance for Chamberlain. Canada had to test her early to see what her nerves were like.
Urged on by the boisterous crowd Canada did press forward in the 2nd half. Continuing the pressure on the England defense. This pushing forward left them a little vulnerable on the counterattack and England took advantage of this a couple of times in the 2nd half. One such incursion resulted in an excellent fingertip save in the 55th by a diving McLeod denying Taylor her second goal of the game and keeping Canada within one of tying.
As she has been many times throughout her amazing career Sinclair was the best player on the field in the game. It just wasn’t enough unfortunately. Even bringing Diana Matheson in for her first appearance in the tournament (due to ACL injury) wasn’t enough. England was all about trying to preserve their one goal lead at this point and were doing an excellent job of slowing things down.
Canada’s best chance to tie the game came in the 83rd minute. Substitute Adriana Leon put a nice cross into the box from the left side. Schmidt snapshot it over the crossbar. That was it and that was all in the tournament for Canada. England advanced to the semis against Japan. Overcome by the emotion of it all, many Canadian players either collapsed on the field or burst into tears. Once Sinclair collected them all for a talk the team then saluted the crowd. I was sad thinking that this was probably the end of an era for Canadian women’s soccer. Several players on this team are in their 30s and might be done. End for who? Melissa Tancredi? Karina Leblanc? Diana Matheson? Marie-Eve Nault? Josée Bélanger? Carmelina Moscato? And perish the thought – Christine Sinclair?
Credit goes to the Canadian team as they bore the immense pressure of being the host side well and made it to the quarters. Several players like Buchanan (abdominal strain) and Schmidt (hip) played on despite injuries. This was a physical contest and they continued on despite the pain. They, despite their loss, are heroes and in about 5-10 years you are going her stories coming out of young lady’s mouths about how they were inspired to play soccer because of this team. That kind of effect is worth more than trophies or titles. It is a different kind of victory. Though it would have been really nice to win this one.
Next up for Canada is the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. See you then!
-On-Field Officials: Referee – Claudia Umpierrez (Uruguay)
Linespeople – Luciana Mascarana (Uruguay) and Loreto Toloza (Chile)
-Goals: 1st Half:
11th minute: England – Jodie Taylor
14th minute: England – Lucy Bronze
42nd minute: Canada – Christine Sinclair
-Shots on Goal: Canada – 3
England – 4
-Corners: Canada – 4
England – 2
-Player of the Game: Steph Houghton – England
-Final Score: Canada – 1
England – 2