June 16, 2015
By Laura Armstrong
MONTREAL—Having clinched the top of Group A in the Women’s World Cup on Monday night with a draw against the Netherlands, Canada will face a third-place finisher in their first elimination game Sunday. But John Herdman and his players aren’t taking any potential opponents for granted.
“That’s the key. I watched Cameroon play against Japan and they took, like, 20-plus shots on the world champions, so you just can’t take anyone lightly,” the Canadian coach said following the match in Montreal.
Canada’s opponent in the round of 16 won’t be decided until after the final round-robin games are played Wednesday, but the team travelled to Vancouver on Tuesday knowing the rest of their tournament will take place in Western Canada.
Not having to travel long distances — their remaining games will be in Vancouver or Edmonton — and having a five-day break before their next game will be good for the Canadian players.
The team tired through the game against the Dutch, letting in a late goal after a weary clearance by the Canadian defence went awry. The breakdown could have been costly for the Canadians had the Chinese been able to beat New Zealand in the other Group A game, which ended in a 2-2 draw.
It’s important the team learns from Monday’s game and makes sure to close out games, said captain Christine Sinclair.
“As the games get closer and closer, tougher and tougher, one goal, that’s going to be the difference. So it’s, can we get that one and stop the other team from scoring.”
Rhian Wilkinson was one of the players involved in the Dutch goal Monday and took partial blame for the goal. But the right-back is confident the team will be prepared for whoever they might face come Sunday.
“There’s little mistakes we definitely need to clear up, and I think we just need to finish our chances. We created some really good chances and this game didn’t need to be so close going into the final stretch.”
The team could gain some much-needed momentum by fixing those little mistakes that led to a series of choppy performances in the round robin, she said. And while Canada might not have been at its best in the three games — an opening day win and two draws the team has achieved its first goal of winning the group.
In some ways, the pressure is off, Herdman said.
“The knockout games are completely different. It’s just all out and I think everyone knows when the knockouts come you see a new level of performance from teams, and I hope that we can put that out there for the Canadian public.”
For now, Canada looks like they will safely avoid heavyweights such as Germany, France and the United States until the later stages of the tournament.
All the better, for now, Herdman said.
“I don’t think our team’s ready for them yet, but they will be by the time the semis or quarter-finals come.”