Back with a new act
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was another time, another era, almost another galaxy.
And it was only four years ago.
"I never want to feel like we felt four years ago, again,'' says Andrea Neil.
"This is what you dream about - the World Cup. This is what the blood, sweat and tears is all about. You put everything in your life into a sport and then you get to the ultimate moment and then ... that happens.''
It was 7-1, 4-1, 1-1 and one seriously sorry story the last time Canada went to the Women's World Cup.
But that was then and this is now and there's no way Canada's girls of summer are going to come home and say they're sorry this time. They believe they're going to BE the story. And not just the babies. All the old ladies.
"We're the most excited,'' said Neil of the well-preserved players.
"We keep talking to each other about it, about how we were going to call it quits and now we're here again feeling just an unbelievable excitement. We can't wait until Saturday. And we can't wait to see how this team takes it all in stride.''
Only five members of Even Pellerud's Canadian World Cup team were members of the USA1999 team which so soiled the sheets, losing 7-1 to Norway in Washington, D.C., 4-1 to Russia at the Meadowlands and drawing 1-1 against Japan in San Jose.
Only Charmaine Hooper, Andrea Neil, Silvana Burtini, Sharolta Nonen and Isabelle Morneau survived to get back to USA 2003, the World Cup relocated from Shanghai, China, due to the SARS epidemic.
Keeper Karina LeBlanc was there, too, but didn't play. Only Hooper, Neil and Burtini are going into their third World Cup.
Kara Lang was eight when they played in their first one.
They're the old ladies with the horror stories. They're the ones who can't wait to play Germany here Saturday to show to the world that Canada has come of age and gone from a minnow to a team with a whale of a chance to set the world on their ear here.
PUTTING IT INTO WORDS
Neil is their voice. She's the one who best seems to put it into words.
Hooper was the one who caused all the controversy back home with her comments after that World Cup was over. But Neil can communicate what it felt like in their innards.
"It wasn't like we didn't have lofty goals,'' she said. "Both times.''
In 1995 Canada made it to this nation's initial appearance in the Women's World Cup.
Same sad story.
Two losses and a tie.
One of the losses was 7-0 to the eventual title team from Norway coached by Even Pellerud, the man who coaches Canada now.
At least they managed those ties. At least they scored actual goals. Canada's men didn't do either in losing all three games and going goalless at the Mexico '86 World Cup.
But it was awful. It was ugly. Both times.
"The program before didn't have a full-time coach. It was barely a program. A couple times a year we'd get together. We didn't even have the funding to get together. And going to the World Cup we'd try to squish into about a month all our preparation,'' remembers Neil.
"The confidence level, the consistency level we have with this team .... nothing about this team and the previous two teams compares.
"The bar has been raised so much higher.
"We took our lumps along the way. But since the day the CSA hired the great coach we have now and gave him the resources to put together this program ...
NOW THEY CAN TASTE IT
"We've never played bottom feeders. We've built the foundation and now we can taste it.
''We believe now, really believe, that our goals can be achieved. It's a totally different feeling than before.''
It's not like there's going to be an element of surprise going for this team, which is undefeated in their last 10 games going into Group C play that begins Saturday against Germany and continues Wednesday against Argentina here and then switches to Boston the next Saturday vs. Japan.
An international poll on the FIFA worldcup.com Web site has 47% of voters expecting 12th-ranked Canada to win the group over third-ranked Germany (30%) and 14th-ranked Japan (8%).
This team qualified for the World Cup last fall in Victoria and Seattle.
But Neil says there's no comparison between even that team and this team.
"I was thinking about it the other day. I was thinking when we got together back in February for a camp in a little town in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina and that seems so long ago.
"To think back to four years ago and eight years ago ... that's so long ago, so far away, so out of context.''