Win or go home

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

CHENGDU, China -- The Matildas and the Northern Girls shared Air China flight 1745 here yesterday, the Australians sitting mostly in aisle seats and the Canadians mostly in window seats.

Several shared the same rows.

"I don't think this would work in men's soccer," Canadian coach Even Pellerud said.

There wasn't much conversation between the players from the two teams. When the flight landed, one team went to one side of the baggage carousel and the other to the opposite side.

The Aussies and Canucks flew here knowing they will not share the same plane when they leave.

BRAZIL UP NEXT

The two teams meet here Wednesday in the final game of group play at the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Assuming that Norway defeats winless Ghana, the winner of the Australia-Canada game will fly to Tianjin where it will meet the top team in Group D, likely Brazil, in the quarter-final. The loser will fly home.

If the two teams tie, Australia gets through and Canada goes home.

The teams left the gorgeous lake city of Hangzhou and touched down here just under three hours later to a dramatically different locale than the one they left.

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province and the home of Sichuan Chinese food. It is not the spic 'n' span clean tourist town they left, but a dirtier industrial city known as the Gateway to Tibet and famed for being the home of the giant panda, complete with a breeding base where visitors can see the pandas wandering through bamboo groves and forests. Pictures and drawings of giant pandas are everywhere throughout the city.

But for the next few days here, it's all about kangaroos and beavers.

What we're dealing with here are two teams with similar stories, the major difference being that Australia is living the same story Canada lived at the event four years ago.

Like Canada in the 2003 tournament, the Australians had never won a World Cup game before.

The games are being shown on Australian television for the first time and there are reports that the nation has become quite captivated by their girls.

That, of course, happened to Canada four years ago.

The two national teams have met 13 times, each winning six and one ending in a draw. All were friendlies.

Canada has a 3-1-1 record in the past five.

For the Canadians, who finished fourth at the most recent World Cup, this is very much the same situation they found themselves going into in their final game of group play against Japan in 2003. Nothing short of a win against the Japanese would get them through.

"It's very similar to going against Japan in this same game. The difference is that I would rate Australia a little better than Japan was four years ago," said Pellerud of Australia, the 15th-ranked team going into the tournament, roughly where now ninth-ranked Canada was placed in 2003.

There's a healthy respect which goes both ways going into this one.

"Canada is a very difficult team to play against," said Tom Sermanni, the Scot who coaches Australia.

"They are very physical and strong. They play the type of football that fits the team that they have."

ENERGIZER BUNNIES

He said the Canadians are like Energizer bunnies.

"They are a competitive team that never gives up. They just keep going and going and going. They're a very difficult opponent."

Pellerud said the game planning hasn't all been done yet, but one thing is obvious watching the Aussies.

"Against Australia it is very critical to have the right line-up. We have to be able to handle their speed.

"We're going to be going against a couple of the fastest strikers I've ever seen in women's soccer," he said of Sara Walsh and Lisa De Vanna.

"Those two strikers are even faster than I expected. We need to contain that speed."

So much preparation is required it's doubtful if either team is going to be spending any time looking at giant pandas. And if they do, it's damn sure they won't be sharing the same bus.


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