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Canada WNT: WWC Post Mortem

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Finish shows team's potential, flaws



Canada's coach Even Pellerud, of Norway, carries a soccer ball during a training session for the 2003 Women's World Cup on Oct. 9. (AP/Joe Cavaretta)

CARSON, Calif. (CP) - Christine Sinclair scrunched up her face as she looked at the fourth-place medal hanging around her neck.

"Right now we look at it like we lost the game," Sinclair said, reflecting on Canada's 3-1 loss to the United States in the FIFA women's World Cup's third-place match. "In a couple of months, looking at the wall and seeing this hanging there, it'll be nice."

The Burnaby, B.C., native, who scored Canada's lone goal in the loss to the Americans Saturday, started to walk away, then stopped, turned and smiled.

"We're pretty much a bunch of teenagers out there," said Sinclair, who scored three goals in her first World Cup appearance.

"We're only going to get better. You hate to lose but fourth place isn't too bad if you look at it that way."

By playing their way into the World Cup's final four, the national team demonstrated how far it has travelled in the last four years but also showed the ground it still needs to cover before Canada can be considered an elite team.

Next up for Canada is the qualifying tournament for the 2004 Olympic Games in Costa Rica after Christmas. It will be an eight-team tournament with the top two teams earning a ticket to Athens.

The U.S., silver medallists in 2000, and Canada are expected to advance.

Canada fielded the second youngest team at the World Cup. Injuries to players like Breanna Boyd, Candace Chapman and Isabelle Morneau left a patch-work defence.

Ranked 12th in the world, the women became the first Canadian team to win a World Cup game and the first to reach the playoffs with a 2-1 record.

They upset China 1-0 in the quarter-finals but lost to Sweden in the semifinals before losing to the Americans.

Coach Even Pellerud thinks the seeds have been planted and it's only a matter of time before he reaps the harvest.

"We need to be together for many events, many years," said Pellerud, who took over the program after Canada finished 12th at the 1999 World Cup. "There is no doubt this team four years older, heading into 2007, it will be a logical goal for us to go for the final medals.

"There is a lot of potential, a lot of power, a lot of athleticism, a lot of skill. We need more sophistication in some tight situations, we need the injured players back. All that will make us an even better team."

Pellerud called strikers Sinclair, 20, Kara Lang, 16, of Oakville, Ont., and Christine Latham, 22, of Calgary, who also had three goals in the tournament, his "three young monsters up front."

Midfielders Brittany Timko, 18, of Coquitlam, B.C., and Diana Matheson, 19, of Oakville, were tireless, playing both a smothering defence and putting the ball through to the strikers.

Goalkeeper Taryn Swiatek, 22, of Calgary, showed good movement and aggression in her World Cup debut.

The same youth that paid so many dividends also cost Canada in the playoffs.

Sweden took advantage of some Canadian indecision to score the tying goal in their 2-1 semifinal victory. Canada also lacks the ball control and pin-point passing of elite teams like Germany, Sweden and the U.S.

"We're young and sometimes we lack confidence," said Timko.

"Sometimes we panic too much. The more games you play the better you are prepared for these high quality international games."

Veterans like midfielder Andrea Neil, 33, and defender Sharolta Nonen, 27, both of Vancouver, add depth and experience. Captain Charmaine Hooper, 35, who moved from striker to defence, is the backbone of the team.

"I've never seen a more committed soccer player in my life," Pellerud said.

For the team to continue to progress it needs more international games to season the young players and hone the veterans.

Kevan Pipe, chief operating officer for the Canadian Soccer Association, said $600,000 US was spent on the women's program in preparation for the 1999 World Cup.

Sorting through the wreckage afterward, the CSA made the decision to hire Pellerud and increase the women's team budget to $1.4 million for this year's World Cup.

Additional money was also spent developing youth teams, like the squad that won a silver medal at last year's FIFA Under-19 world champions. Six of those players were on the World Cup team.

During the World Cup, it was apparent Canada still needs to improve its skills and play making.

One thing Hooper doesn't want to lose it the team's physical play.

"We're just a bunch of battlers," said the Ottawa native. "If I'm a coach picking a team I'm going to pick a team of players that are going to be battlers from start to finish. I'm not looking for great finesse and great technique. As long as you fight and show that desire and heart, you're going to win."

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Young and injury riddled, they still did all right.

That being said, even making the final four, who'd they beat that maybe they shouldn't have? China. Don't think China will be looking back at this WWC with fondness. A Kara Lang cannon from 30 yards made the Sweden match look better than it might otherwise have, so where are we?

Dose looking sometimes competative in a match against your betters count for anything? Probably should, but untell you start taking home the points it's all just teasing.

I still think they did themselfs proud. Brighter days lay ahead if some of these young ladies stick with the game at it's highest level.

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