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new Ben Knight article: A world we can conquer


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A world we can conquer

Grab a flag and cheer, y'all. Canada's women have a legitimate chance to win the World Cup.

From time to time here at the Soccer Desk, we turn off the analysis, suspend disbelief, quit talking about reasons why and reasons why not, and leap into outright, leather-lunged, go for it cheerleader mode.

This would be one of those times.

The 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup is kicking off across the United States, and expectations up here in Canada are running higher than they've ever run. Oh, it's guarded excitement, mind you. Very, very Canadian, really. But, unlike the ongoing "trust us, it'll be fine" aspirations of the Toronto Maple Leafs (just for example), the current wave of hype and optimism is actually based on something tangible and concrete.

Simply put, Canada could win this thing.

Red shirts! Maple leaf logos! Hoisting a World Cup!

Not that it's going to be easy, but women's soccer in the early twenty-first century is a very promising world for Canadians. This is a universe where Canada is a world power, and England isn't. Canada's women play to good-sized crowds on national television. England's women struggle to be taken seriously on their own home parks in their own home towns.

Germany and Brazil are powers in the women's game, but the Big Two at the moment, on any given day, seem to be the United States and China. But somewhere in that mix - young, talented and bursting with heart and adrenaline - sits Canada.

By now, you know all about the kids. Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and a dozen other outstanding prospects, who came within a foot of empty air over an American crossbar of hoisting a World Cup of their own not so very long ago. En masse, they graduated to Evan Pellerud's senior squad, where they gelled with brilliant veterans like the great Charmaine Hooper to form a side that not only scores goals by the bushel, but works it hearts out on defence, and is bulldog scrappy and cat-like quick in the midfield.

They don't generally play pretty soccer, but more and more, better and better, they are getting the job done.

Watching them rise, I've become quite a fan of the women's game. I love the commitment. I love that there's only and exactly enough toughness to foster creativity. You don't see the hours of negative play that often bog down the men's game.

You don't see fake injuries all over the place. The rolling, diving and screaming of the big-name men, which would be laughed off any famous opera stage in the great old capitals of Europe, simply are not part of the women's game. With the exception of the occasional bratty under-19 Brazilian goalkeeper, you don't see much cheating.

Multi-million-dollar egos don't run wild in this world. For most of the players, professionalism is an all-too-fleeting dream. Last week's apparent failure of the Women's United Soccer Association, the only professional women's soccer loop on the continent, casts dire doubts over the footballing futures of almost every player on the Canadian and U.S. teams.

So what you're going to see in this tournament is the sheer, delicious love of the game. And the pure emotion that's going to be generated will be wonderful to watch.

North Korea, for example. With all the worries about North Korea, and all the perfectly legitimate fear about a rogue government and its nuclear threats, the players on the Korean World Cup team are far from being emotionless robots. When they score, they smile. They whoop. They leap. They dive into each other's arms and party like it's 2099. Pure, inspiring humanity -- a heart-warming thing to see in these muddled days of geopolitical over-simplification.

My colleague Craig Forrest, on the new midweek edition of Soccercentral, predicted Canada would win the whole thing. His heart was likely running ahead of his head - he grinned and admitted as much right there on camera - but it's more than merely possible that his dream will come true.

Win or lose, I intend to enjoy these games immensely.

And I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope WE WIN!

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