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Canada’s Chances at the Women’s World Cup

June 26, 2011

By Mike Toth

Just what are the chances of Canada winning a medal at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World  Cup, or even better, walking away the Big Prize itself? How about trying to sneak the  sunrise past a rooster, say those who don’t like to put much faith in fairy tales with happy endings.

Other devotees to the Beautiful Game beg to differ – and this particular camp includes Canada’s frontline foot(y) soldiers marching off to the battle fields of Germany ready, willing and able to meet the challenge. The Canadian women have spent the better part of the past two months in a soccer specific training camp in Rome and the players feel their prospects are bright for Mission Germany, especially in view of the Canadian team’s considerable successes since they so spectacularly snatched the North American title away from the powerhouse United States.

For one, young Jonelle Filigno is practically bursting with confidence. “Myself individually, as well as the entire team feel we are well prepared,” says Filigno, the fast-rising striker already touted as the heir apparent to Christine Sinclair as Canada’s next prima soccerina. “The recent successes that we have had all added to the confidence and belief that we now have going into the World Cup. Not many teams can say that they’ve had the success that we’ve had leading up to the World Cup.”

At the tender age of 20 Filigno is the youngest player on Team Canada. She is also battle-hardened with 30-plus international appearances to her credit already. Among others, Filigno has helped Canada win the 2010 Gold Cup, gold medal at the 2008  CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship, reached the quarter-final with Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games, and represented Canada at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Since the end of September, Canada’s international record is nothing short of spectacular. In addition to winning the  CONCACAF World Cup qualifier, Canada also came first at the 2010 Torneio Internacional in Brazil and the 2011 Cyprus Women’s Cup; and second at the 2011 Yongchuan Cup Four-Nation Women’s Tournament in China – an impressive run by any measure of any stick and certainly providing enough rocket fuel to boost the Canadian women to a rarified atmospheric height of sixth position in the FIFA rankings.

“Being ranked sixth in the world is more of a positive than a negative because the goal is to be the best in the world,” says Filigno. “This ranking, being the highest in history for us, has given us another boost of confidence and belief that we are one of the best teams in the world and that we have the ability to beat those ranked ahead of us.“

That means U.S.A., Germany, Brazil, Japan and Sweden, the top five. Midfielder Carmelina Moscato looks at Canada’s lofty position in the FIFA rankings as merely a stepping stone and added incentive. “We consider this historical ranking as recognition for all the hard work and results we have been able to produce within the last two years,” she says. ”It by no means we are
content with the ranking, as we want to keep on improving our game, thus hopefully continuing to get positive results against top teams. We don’t plan to settle for sixth best in the world, you have to set your sights high.”

Veteran fullback Robyn Gayle agrees that it is a “nice feeling” to move up in the world rankings, but it is by means the end. “Once the tournament begins the rankings don’t matter,” she says. “I personally feel more excited than pressured. The staff and players
have invested a lot of time and effort and I’m excited to see the final product of all our work.”

Gayle is still only 25 years old and a hopeful for her second FIFA Women’s World Cup. She is one of seven players who won a silver medal at the inaugural FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup back in 2002 at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, and still with the team today. She was also a member of the 2008 Olympic squad.

“It’s nice to have the experience of previous major competitions under my belt, but every new tournament brings its own unique challenges,” she says. The Canadian women won’t have to wait too long for that “unique challenge” – they face host Germany in the World Cup opening match on June 26 at the same Olympic Stadium in Berlin where Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the chest and Italy defeated France in penalty kicks to win the 2006 World Cup. All 74,244 seats for the kick-off haves been sold out for months. With world-wide television exposure of millions of viewers it should ensure a new record for the largest ever audience to watch a Canadian team in live action – any gender, any sport.

Having to play the world’s No. 2 ranked side (and tournament favourite) in the opener looms as a dream and, at the same time, somewhat of a nightmare. “Playing Germany in front of their home crowd in the opening match is a big task,” says Canadian team coach Carolina Morace, the former Italian superstar whose playing career credentials include 105 international goals. “The Germans might be a little nervous in the circumstances, too. I see no reason why we shouldn’t take something from the opening match, provided we play well.”

Striker and Team Canada captain Christine Sinclair, whom Coach Morace considers possibly the best female player in the world today, says she’s looking forward to her date with the host team. “Drawing Germany for the first game is actually quite exciting for us,“ Capt’n Sinclair says. ”When you enter this kind of tournament, on the world stage it becomes and honour to play some of the best teams in our sport. We train as hard as we do to be prepared and play the game to the best of our ability.”

In further Group A encounters Canada faces France  (June 30 in Bochum) and Nigeria (July 5 in Dresden). In our four previous quests Canada never managed to bring home the big World Cups prize – nor did we win a medal. The best showing was a fourth place finish in 2003. Much of the credit for the players’ optimistic outlook belongs to coach Carolina Morace. In a relatively short span, Morace has stamped her mark on the Canadian women’s soccer program in a major league fashion. What has become clear – especially during this past World Cup qualifying run – is that instead of relying more on a simplistic boot ‘n’ chase physical approach, under Morace Canada has learned to play (and win) with panache and possession-focused style.

Under Morace the team has mastered the art of adopting to, and employing whatever style and formation produces results.
“We genuinely feel prepared when we match up against any system and our game plan execution becomes more and more flawless,” says midfielder Moscato who has 46 caps to her credit. “Heading into the World Cup I am confident that we will have faced every system that a team will throw at us.”

During the CONCACAF qualifiers and in games since Morace has illustrated that she isn’t afraid to shake up the roster and expose younger players. The current national team roster heading to Germany consists of 23 players and includes internationally untested youngsters in forwards Chelsea Buckland, Christina Julien and midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. The rest of the core squad combined have 1,065 caps to their credit.

That’s a fair amount of experience that will come handy when the Canadian women tackle their  upcoming task on feet.

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