Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
You've come a long way Canada
Women's team better by leaps and bounds
So often for Canada's national women's soccer team high hopes have quickly turned into profound disappointment.
At the 2003 World Cup, in this country's only previous appearance in a major semifinal, Canada led 1-0 through Kara Lang until late on when two Swedish goals in the final 11 minutes turned what looked to be a berth in the final into a spot in the third-place game. And just last summer in Germany, with expectations approaching the astronomical, sixth-ranked Canada fell flat on their faces, losing consecutive matches to France, Nigeria and the host nation.
How things change in a year.
Since the hiring of manager John Herdman following the 2011 World Cup debacle Canada had been rather low key in the run-up to these Olympics. Hype was replaced by preparation; philosophy was replaced by discipline.
The flair-focused approach of the outgoing Carolina Morace regime (and the rah-rah arrivals at major tournaments that only made the failures more difficult to watch) was swapped for something more nuanced, more Canadian.
Never was this more apparent than on Friday in Coventry. Cast as underdogs against a British team that had just beaten Brazil and was beginning to win the hearts of the home fans, Canada got off to a flyer, scored twice in less than half an hour and were generally the dominant team over the 90 minutes of the Olympic quarter-final.
In attack they were clinical. Both sides had six shots on target, but Canada exposed their opponents' weakness in defending set pieces by scoring once from a corner and once from a free-kick.
And on the defensive side of the ball Canada showed the sort of attention to detail that has so often been lacking, so often their downfall.
Even goalkeeper Erin McLeod looked confident when called upon.
Individually they put in the performance of their careers. Right-back Rhian Wilkinson won her matchup with Team GB left-back Steph Houghton, who came into the match with three goals from three appearances at this competition.
Jonelle Filigno led the line admirably for more than an hour and allowed Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi to operate with freedom and creativity in behind. Winnipeg's Desiree Scott showed, once again, why she is one of the top defensive midfielders in women's soccer.
Of course, a quarter-final win is hardly a championship. This team could still finish out of the medals. But even if they do you get the feeling they've leaped a hurdle at these Olympics.
They didn't implode. And while they've only managed to beat the United States (Monday's semifinal opponent) three times in 51 previous matches, it would be foolish to rule them out based on history at this point.
No matter what happens on Monday this Olympic tournament will be seen as one of the great successes in the story of women's soccer in Canada. Win or lose. That's both an accomplishment and a challenge.
-- If you have some free time around 11 a.m. this morning do yourself a favour and watch the Olympic men's soccer quarter-final between Brazil and Honduras. On display will be some of the most talented young players you're likely to see (Neymar, Oscar and Leandro Damiao among them) and a physical Honduras side will be looking to kick them off the park. It should make for quite the spectacle.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @peterssoccer
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 C6
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