Jump to content

Canada eager to atone for 1999 disappointment

Massive Attack

Recommended Posts

Canada eager to atone for 1999 disappointment



(CP) - Sitting in her hotel room in Kingston, Ont., Karina LeBlanc was counting the days.

It seems like the all-star goalkeeper from Maple Ridge, B.C., and her Canadian teammates have spent forever waiting for next week. After months of rigorous preparation unlike anything seen in the Canadian women's soccer program, Canada finally takes to the 2003 World Cup pitch Sept. 20 against Germany in Columbus, Ohio - the team's first chance to put the boots to memories of Canadian teams of old.

"We've been excited for a while, we're just ready to get things rolling," said LeBlanc. "This Canadian team isn't the same Canadian team that has represented Canada in the past in the world. We're just eager to show the world what we can do."

Canada has firepower up front, a powerful stopper in the five-foot-nine LeBlanc, the starting 'keeper for WUSA's Boston Breakers, and a canny coach in Even Pellerud. Not a bad combination going into the women's World Cup.

Canada, which has one exhibition game left before the World Cup kicks off - Sunday against Australia in Kingston (Rogers Sportsnet, 2 p.m. EDT) - will field a far different side than the teams that earned just a point in each of the last two World Cups and failed to advance out of the first round.

A squad that's long been in the shadows of the United States, the Canadians are being touted as one of the most improved - and most feared - sides this time around.

"You spend a lot of energy trying to attack them, and then they break very quickly and dangerously," U.S. coach April Heinrichs said of the Canadians on the FIFA web site. "And they play extremely hard. They are reckless, scrappy, and show absolutely no concern for their own bodies. It's a style that's done them well."

Canada's performance in 1999 was deemed a major disappointment on and off the field. The Canadians opened with a 1-1 tie against Japan but went on to lose 7-1 to Norway and 4-1 to Russia, and veteran striker Charmaine Hooper was vocal in her criticism of Canada's poor preparation, refusing to play again for coach Neil Turnbull.

The person credited largely with the team's turnaround is Pellerud, who led Norway to gold in the 1995 World Cup. The Canadian Soccer Association hired the 50-year-old Norwegian in 2000.

Known for stressing discipline, team shape and work ethic, Pellerud scoured the country to find the finest players, turning heads when he named young phenom Kara Lang to the senior side for the Algarve Cup in March of 2002 when she was just 15.

"Even has done a great job of selecting players that fit well with the system that we're trying to play. I think back in '99, we played with three in the back, sometimes we had a sweeper, it just wasn't as organized," said LeBlanc. "Now we have certain formations that we'll play depending on who we're playing against, and we're all comfortable with it."

Since taking over, Pellerud has forced his team to get tough playing powerhouses China, Norway and the U.S. over 20 times in the last three years.

Canada finally proved they were gaining ground at the Gold Cup last November. They earned their World Cup berth with second-place finish at the tournament, winning four games by a combined 25-1 score before losing the final to the U.S. on a Mia Hamm golden goal.

On this 20-player roster, there are 14 with no World Cup experience, and six from last year's team that won silver at the under-19 world championships in Edmonton.

Three players - Hooper, Silvana Burtini, and Andrea Neil - will play in their third World Cup.

"It's a young team. . . a team that is built on a little bit of everything and together has formed a good team," said Pellerud.

The team boasts a potent attack in Lang, who holds the world record as the youngest player to ever score in a full international, Christine Sinclair, who scored 10 goals at the under-19 world championships to earn the Golden Boot, and Christine Latham, who earned WUSA rookie of the year honours with the San Diego Spirit.

"We have goal scorers. . . we have many goal scorers," said Pellerud. "The bigger challenge for us is to play with a defence that is a bit more consistent and a little bit more cynical than they are now. But they're getting there."

True. The Canadians, ranked 12th in the world, have not lost in nine games dating back to a last-minute friendly against the United States on April 26, and they've shut out their opponents five times in those nine games, allowing just one goal in each of the other four games.

Canada is coming off a pair of easy victories over Mexico winning by a combined 14-0, and in a surprise decision Pellerud moved the 35-year-old Hooper, an aggressive striker with a nose for the goal, back to defence for those games.

"I think it's great for her to use her experience for the team and be available in different positions at this time," said Pellerud. "I think she's pretty excited about that herself even if she maybe has a hard time admitting it."

Hooper, whose 57 goals are more than any other Canadian man or woman, is listed on the roster as both a defender and forward and Pellerud said where he will play her will depend on the game.

Canada opens against Germany Sept. 20, then plays Argentina on Sept. 24, both in Columbus, Ohio, before heading to Boston where the Canadian women meet Japan in their finally preliminary-round game Sept. 27. All three games will be broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet.

Germany, which lost to the U.S. 3-2 in the quarter-finals at the '99 World Cup, will be tough to beat. Japan's best finish was an appearance in the quarter-finals in 1995 and is beatable, while Argentina, a team with virtually no WUSA experience and untested in international play, will likely finish last in Canada's pool.

The Canadians need to finish in the top two in its pool to advance to the quarter-finals where they would meet either the first or second-place finisher of Group D - Australia, Russia, Ghana or China.

The quarter-finals and semifinals are in Portland, with Carson, Calif., hosting the bronze medal game Oct. 11, and gold medal match Oct. 12.

The Americans head into the 16-team tournament as the world's top-ranked side, while Norway is No. 2, followed by Germany, China and Sweden.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...