The official kick off game (even though France and Nigeria had played earlier in the day) to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 saw the host German team having to face the upstarts from Canada. The German side is the two time defending World Cup champions and boasts one of the best female players of all time in their lineup, Birgit Prinz. Ranked number two in the world and playing in front of their home crowd, the Germans were greatly favoured to win the match. But Canada, not known as a soccer power like Germany is, demonstrated just how far they’ve come and were no push overs.
In the past couple of years the Canadian women’s national soccer side has seen some considerable advances. Since 2009 Canada has moved up seven spots in the world ranking. Canada is now ranked number six in the world and has only 2 losses in its last 20 games. They have also won the last three tournaments including the CONCACAF Gold Cup that they entered. The improvement is largely attributed to the coaching of Carolina Morace.
A respected international coach and the first woman to have ever coached a men’s professional team, former Italian national coach and player, Morace is an Italian who has completely revamped the team. Canada now plays a possession game rather than the kick-and-run strategy favoured by previous coach, Norwegian Evan Pellerud.
This was a game that featured several top players. Canada’s captain is 28-year-old striker, Christine Sinclair. It is thought to be her time to show she is possibly the best female player in the world. This is her third World Cup and she had notched 116 international goals for Canada. Midfielder Diana Matheson, 27-years-old, is a wizard with the ball. A workhorse in the middle of the field, she is a great playmaker who can also score the odd goal. German striker Birgit Prinz is in her fifth World Cup, has 14 World Cup goals and is 33-years-old. 32-year-old German keeper Nadine Angerer is the best in the world. She has not conceded a goal in 6 World Cup games.
The game took place at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in front of a sold out crowd of 73,680 very pro-German fans. This was a new European record crowd for women’s soccer. The Canadian side would have to remain calm and not be intimidated by the large number of vocal supporters for the Germans. It would be interesting to see if they could feed off the crowd’s energy.
Soccer, not just men’s, is taken very seriously in Germany. The German side came in with the reputation of being quick on attack, having a fantastic goalkeeper, being extremely fit, and well organized in the back. Canada, if they were to have a chance, was going to have to remain focused and try to break down Germany on quick counterattacks. Germany is frustrating to play against as they don’t give you the ball often. All this and they came into the game on a 12 game winning streak.
Erin McLeod, who is coming off a knee injury suffered in China, got the start in the Canadian goal. Canada has two good goaltenders with McLeod and Karina LeBlanc. 28-year-old McLeod, not the tallest of keepers, was a bit of a surprise starter, but played well.
The game was played under ideal conditions for soccer. It was bright, not too hot (21 Celsius) and not much wind. After a good warm up, Canada came out strong in the game. The first goal is so important in an opening game. It was the underdog who generated the game’s first quality scoring chance.
Striker Sinclair had a great chance 6 minutes in. She was sent in alone courtesy of a well played through ball by Matheson. Maybe nerves (or surprise) got the best of Sinclair because normally this world class striker buries chances like this. Sinclair was guilty of getting under the ball and her left footed attempt from 10 yards out went over the crossbar. She knew she probably would not have a better scoring chance and Sinclair knew she should have scored. A heartbreaking miss for the Canadian squad as scoring an early first goal would have certainly unsettled the German squad and their fans. It might have been a different game…alas…
It did not take long for the German side to collect itself and create its own scoring chance. In the 10th minute McLeod was forced into a great save diving to her right off Kerstin Garefrekes (on a clever set up by Melanie Behringer), a player who left her thumbprint all over this game. Before the Canadian defense, which was guilty of ball watching on several occasions on this day, could really clear the ball from danger, Babett Peter played a perfect cross into the box from the left corner. Garefrekes climbed over fullback Marie-Eve Nault to head the ball past a helpless McLeod. 1-0 for the home side! The worst thing just happened to the Canadians – an early goal.
The goal completely restored the confidence of the Germans. Though Canada won the possession game (51%-49%) Germany dominated when it came to creating scoring chances. Canada gave up too many free kicks in the early going after the goal. For example, midfielder Kim Kulig had a dead ball chance from 25 yards out a mere five minutes after the opening goal and just put it over the crossbar.
Another defensive miscue (again by fullback Nault, who played her player onside in an offside trap attempt) led to a goal by the Germans late in the 1st half. In the 40th minute Behringer had a great chance on net off a giveaway by Nault. This was followed shortly after by a German goal in the 42nd minute. The Canadian offside trap failed and midfielder Okoyino Da Mbabi went in alone and calmly (after initially fumbling the reception) stroked the ball into the lower corner past McLeod. It was a crucial second goal. Just how crucial was later apparent.
After the Sinclair miss in the early stages, the only other real Canadian chance in the 1st half was by Matheson in the 30th minute. She launched a cracker of a shot towards the German goal from 25 yards out only to have it just go over the crossbar. It didn’t miss by much.
It was a good 1st half for Germany and a little of a disappointing one for Canada. Simple defensive mistakes cost them goals. Morace reacted to what the Germans were doing by making some half time substitutions. The hapless Nault came out and was replaced by Robyn Gayle. Midfielder Kaylyn Kyle was also taken out for Kelly Parker.
Early in the 2nd half a scary moment happened for Canadian fans. While trying to bust past a German fullback, Sinclair received an elbow in the nose for her efforts. She went down and then off the field. Despite having suffered a broken nose and bleeding a little, she continued on and provided the game with a highlight reel goal.
After a couple of crossbars struck by the Germans, great chances missed by substitute striker Alexandra Popp (20-year-old brought in for Prinz in the 56th minute) and an incredible empty net miss by Garefrekes, in the 81st minute Simone Laudehr was shown a yellow card for a foul on Sinclair just outside the German 18 yard box. A determined Sinclair took the ensuing free kick and it was a thing of beauty! A brilliant strike (international goal number 117) that found the top left corner of the German net. Sinclair put it over the German wall and then down into the net.
2-1! Someone had finally scored on the Germans and their brilliant keeper, Angerer. Canadian (and German) fans were wondering with 10 minutes left in the game whether we were going to see an interesting finish.
The goal did give Canada a renewed vigor after it looked like they were tired and just limiting the damage against the Germans. Another good chance came for them in the 87th minute off another set piece. Matheson played a short ball to Sinclair off a corner, who played it back to the fullback Gayle. She crossed it in from the right flank and defender Zurrer somehow was left unmarked and got behind the German backs. Zurrer could not make much of her first time attempt on net. It just resulted in an awkward miss. Zurrer had so much time in box and should have brought it down instead of attempting one timer. German fans breathed a sigh of relief, I’m sure.
Canada could not tie up the game, but they did give the Germans something to think of. The game was quite a physical battle. The Germans could have easily had a few more goals, but Canada’s Sinclair also missed a golden opportunity. Canada played decently and exposed some cracks in the German defense. If you are so inclined, you could say that it was a good loss for Canada.
Canada has never won an opening World Cup game, nor have they ever defeated a European side. Canada’s futility streak against Germany in women’s soccer continues. They have never beaten them. Though all is not hopeless. Germany beat Canada 5-0 last year, so this game showed marked improvement by them. After a showing like yesterday’s game, Canada’s women have us believing that our team can be considered amongst the finest in international football. They are a hard working side and did not ever give up even when they were down 2-0 to the Germans.
For Canada next up is France on Thursday, June 30th. France beat Nigeria 1-0 earlier on opening day. Hopefully Canadians support this wonderful women’s national soccer team throughout the tournament.
-Officials: Referee: Jacqui Melksham (Australia)
Linespersons: Allyson Flynn (Australia) and Sarah Ho (Australia)
-Goals: 1st Half
10th minute: Germany – Kerstin Garefrekes
42nd minute: Germany – Okoyino Da Mbabi
82nd minute: Canada – Christine Sinclair (free kick)
-Shots on Goal: Canada: 1
-Saves: Canada: 7
-Corners: Canada: 6
-Final Score: Canada: 1