Fri, September 20, 2013

Canadians turn page on recent soccer history

Herdman: We've achieved something without achieving something

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Melissa Tancredi and the rest of Team Canada must put their heartbreaking loss to the U.S. behind them and focus on Thursday's bronze-medal match against France. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency file photo)


LONDON - After years of showing some promise and even delivering at times, the Canadian women's soccer team backslid at the World Cup last summer. One of the low points might have been a 4-0 elimination loss to France in which Canada was practically run off the pitch.

Now, a little more than a year later, the two sides will face off in Coventry with an Olympic bronze medal at stake.

It was that loss to France last summer that hastened changes for Canada. Coach Carolina Morace of Italy was let go and replaced by John Herdman, a Brit.

"(Canada) has exorcised a lot of demons the last three games," said Herdman of his team's play here. "They're just looking forward.

"The only motivation now is what we came here for and that is to see that (Canadian) flag raised."

It is going to be interesting to see if the Canadians are capable of shrugging off the emotional baggage they packed after their controversial 4-3 loss in extra time to the Americans Monday night at Old Trafford.

The Canadians were crushed -- "gutted" was the word Canada's Melissa Tancredi of Hamilton used -- by the loss which saw captain Christine Sinclair deliver a glowing performance, scoring all three of Canada's goals. But the memorable performance was overshadowed by the officiating of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, whose uneven performance led to the tying goal for the Americans after a string of questionable calls.

The Canadians stayed on the pitch at Old Trafford long after the semifinal was over and many cried tears of disappointment and frustration.

But their comments after the game also revealed what a seemingly solid emotional core this team has right now, compared to the group of a year ago. There were a number of emotional speeches after Monday's game.

"I think Sincy (Sinclair) said it right. She's never played on a team like this. We're best friends. We all love each other. We're so proud of each other. That was an incredible game," said Melissan Tancredi, who has teamed with Sinclair to produce a potent and dangerous duo up front for Canada. "We're very proud of each other and we have one more game to prove we deserve something.

"We deserve a medal."

Sinclair's performance Monday gave her a tournament-leading six goals. She is now tied with American Abby Wambach with 143 international goals and both are chasing American Mia Hamm, who retired with 158 career tallies.

Sinclair seems to be in a good place and it's reflected in her play on the pitch.

"Even with this result, knowing that we're not playing for the gold, I wouldn't change a thing because of my teammates, the staff. These are my best friends," Sinclair said before adding that this team has come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

"Yeah, but I don't think we're going to think about it too much. We put the World Cup behind us. Our performances here have sort of shown our team last summer was not the same team we are right now. Whether it's France, Japan or the States we'll do our best."

Canada scored three goals against the U.S., on Monday but also allowed four. Better defence is going to have to be a priority Thursday.

The French are ranked sixth in the world, one spot ahead of Canada in the rankings.

They finished behind only the Americans in their group in preliminary round play and were the only team to score against the Americans in the opening round, so Canada is going to be an underdog going into this game -- again.

But they showed they are capable of wonderful things on Monday, giving an effort that endeared them to Canada and made them, in the minds of many Canadians, the story of these Games.

"They achieved something without achieving something," said Herdman, "and they're ready to move on."

The Canadians are hoping that means moving on to the podium.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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