Canada, with plenty on the line after last year’s World Cup failures, got an early goal from Melissa Tancredi, and was able to breathe easy for a while, but South Africa made things difficult for a long time, including late in the first half allowed Banyana Banyana to hit the crossbar. As South Africa tired, Christine Sinclair brought order to the proceedings and eventually Canada had a relatively comfortable 3-0 win. Canada still has questions, but the mission for the day was to put themselves in position to advance, and unless they get blown out by Sweden, they should live to see the quarterfinals. Mission accomplished.
In just 10 days, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 will kick off when hosts Germany face off against Canada. The Canadian Women’s National Team’s right back, Rhian Wilkinson, was kind enough to take time from her busy training schedule in Rome, Italy to share her thoughts on the team’s preparations for the tournament, her transition from being a forward to a defender, and some memorable moments both on and off the field.
All White Kit: In the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, the CanWNT has been in camp since late March and you’ve played several friendlies. How’s the team feeling about the preparations so far?
Rhian Wilkinson: We have played in a number of preparation matches, and I think these have done a good job in letting us try out new tactics and combinations. Of course, the games allow us to pump ourselves up as well and we need this to begin peaking for our first game of the tournament. As a team we are feeling good about our preparations. With only two more lead up games to go [Editor’s note: Canada defeated Hungary 1-0 and North Korea 2-0], we are almost there.
AWK: What will be key for Canada when facing your Group A opponents (Germany, France and Nigeria)?
RW: I know it is a cliché, but we have to take each match as one game at a time. We cannot get caught up in looking any further than our next game, our next opponent. We plan on winning each game we are involved in and this is the attitude we will bring into the World Cup tournament.
AWK: Germany 2011 will be your third WWC. What’s your mindset been like for each tournament?
RW: In the 2003 World Cup, I had only just made the Canada squad and I could not believe I was actually there, playing for my country. I was a little overawed by it all, but the team did extremely well and we punched way above our weight, finishing 4th overall in the tournament. The whole event was an amazing experience and the feeling of elation was something I will never forget.
In the 2007 World Cup tournament, we had been experiencing a rough year. We had lost our form and we struggled against most opponents. Not much changed in the World Cup tournament; we did not do well. I left the 2007 tournament suffering from one of my lowest athletic mindsets. Like many on the team, I found it hard to find motivation and to perform consistently. This was especially so as the 2007 World Cup tournament came right after a poor performance at the Pan Am Games.
I enter into the 2011 World Cup tournament with memories of these two events in my mind. But, I have found new inspiration in my teammates, in the coaching staff, in myself, and even in the support and attention the team is now receiving. I go into this next World Cup with an understanding that we really have to experience the moment. We cannot allow the tournament to become so big that it overwhelms us. We know how to win and we have found the means to win. As a squad, we have great experience and mutual support, and we will not underestimate the importance of the event. We are looking forward to an international competition, an amazing event and I expect Canada, including me, will enjoy the ride all the way to the top of the podium.
Some unforeseen circumstances this past weekend have held me up, but here, I send my belated congratulations to Canada and Mexico for earning automatic berths to next year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany. The two nations will face off at tonight’s CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying finals at 9pm ET for bragging rights as the confederation champions.
Of all the CONCACAF WWCQ tournaments that the US has participated in, this will mark the first time that a country other than the US will take home the trophy. Up until now, the only other nation to win the title was Canada in 1998 by defeating Mexico 1-0. The US didn’t participate that year since they automatically qualified for the WWC as hosts.
Recalling the path to the finals, last week’s semi-final showdowns began with game #1. Early on in the match, Canada had a difficult time finding the back of the net against Costa Rica despite a number of opportunities in the box. Diana Matheson, Josée Bélanger, Kaylyn Kyle and Christine Sinclair all sent their shots sailing over the crossbar. Costa Rica maintained possession quite well during the first half, but were unable to translate that into goals. The Canadians got a bit of a scare in the 19′ when a Costa Rican corner kick flashed across the face of goal. Kyle closely marked Costa Rica’s #9, successfully impeding her run to the far post for a tap in. Nearing the end of the first half, Costa Rica’s strike from 30 yards out went just wide of the net, but would have beaten LeBlanc had it been on frame.
Canadian nerves were finally settled in the 62′ when Sinclair ran to the end line and cut the ball back to an open player. Jonelle Filigno’s initial shot was saved but Bélanger was there to burry the rebound. 10 minutes later, a foul on Scott led to a free kick that fell to Filigno to slot into the net. A corner kick in the 72′ allowed Sinclair to score for a 3-0 lead and the win was capped off by a Costa Rican own-goal during the dying minutes of the game off a cross by Rhian Wilkinson.
Many fans tuned into semi-final #2 expecting to see Mexico take the long road to the WWC. Instead, they pulled off what ESPN and other news sources have been calling, “one of the biggest upsets in the history of women’s soccer.” See Jenna’s posts for insightful coverage of the match.
Maribel Dominguez snuck in behind the American backline to toe poke in the opening goal just 3′ into the game. The US eventually levelled the score in the 25′ when a poor punch by the Mexican ‘keeper, Erika Vanegas, fell to the feet of Carli Lloyd. But less than a minute later, the Mexicans notched the game winning goal when a cross from the right side was headed home by Veronica Perez.