Canadian women tick off another box, head to World Cup on winning note

HAMILTON — Canada ticked another box before heading west to kick off the Women’s World Cup — winning its final tuneup before a fired-up home crowd.

Sophie Schmidt scored a highlight-reel goal midway through the first half to lift Canada to a 1-0 victory over England in a friendly on Friday.

The goal, on artificial turf before 23,197 at Tim Hortons Field, came after a slow start for the Canadian women who grew in confidence and panache as the game wore on. Once it took the lead, Canada strung passes together and looked creative in trying to open up the visitors.

For the Canadians, it was a chance to end a four-game losing streak to the English, who are ranked two places higher than Canada at No. 6.

For coach John Herdman, the game was an opportunity for his women to play before a ramped-up home crowd in advance of the tournament. And while it was just a friendly, he knew the pressure his team would be under if it went into the World Cup on the back of a poor performance.

While he didn’t like the rough opening, Herdman savoured just about everything that followed. Still he managed to temper his post-game delight.

“Look it’s early days. I mean this is a training match. We haven’t won a World Cup, we haven’t even won our first game yet. But it was important tonight to put a performance on like that.”

The Canadian women head to Edmonton on Tuesday in advance of their June 6 World Cup opener against China in Group A, which also features New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Schmidt scored in the 24th minute, sweeping in a feed from makeshift fullback Josee Belanger with a right-footed one-timer on the edge of the penalty box. Her 16th goal for Canada was a beauty.

“An incredible finish,” said Christine Sinclair, who knows a thing or two about the subject.

Herdman said there’s more to come from Schmidt.

“This could be the tournament she becomes the best midfielder in the world. We’ve told her that,” said Herdman. “She’s really got the goods to step up in this World Cup. She’s the right age. She’s done all the hard work. She’s put a hell of a shift in back in Vancouver, lifting weights, getting faster.”

Said Schmidt: “I think it’s within me. This team needs me to be that player.”

Schmidt also excelled in a recent closed-door training match earlier this month against the U.S., scoring in a 1-1 tie.

“I thought she dominated the U.S. midfield,” said Herdman. “And then tonight she just looked like a class above at times. And almost, if I dare say it, she reached Sinclair’s level — that classy float around the pitch, doesn’t give the ball away and then see passes that other people don’t see.

“And what a goal by the way. I mean, wow.”

Schmidt came close on several other occasions, on a free kick in the first half and a close-range shot early in the second after a twisting run through the penalty box. She also threatened in the 78th minute when, all but wearing an English defender, she poked the ball wide.

Schmidt is no stranger to going for goal. Recruited to the University Portland as a holding midfielder, she played striker for her first three years of college.

Making her 132nd Canada appearance, she tied Andrea Neil and Brittany Timko for fourth on the all-time Canadian list.

Canada named local girl Melissa Tancredi captain on the occasion of her 100th cap. Coupled with her mother’s birthday, it was a night to remember.

“I wanted a goal but Sophie’s was beautiful,” said Tancredi, who’s from nearby Ancaster.

“I scored my goal and I looked at her and I went ‘That’s for you,'” said Schmidt. “Tonight was her night and I hopes she feels as special as she is.”

Asked what she was going to do with the captain’s armband, Tancredi laughed and said: “Give it back to Sincy (Sinclair).”

Canada fielded a strong team but had to play Belanger, normally an attacker, at right fullback with Rhian Wilkinson (hamstring) and Marie-Eve Naul (calf) both injured.

Belanger put her pace and offensive skills to good use. Left fullback Allysha Chapman also excelled for Canada, motoring up and down the left flank.

England coach Mark Sampson said he was “reasonably pleased” by his side’s performance. Noting his team had only arrived in the country Monday, he said the game was more about getting some players some minutes.

“Being realistic it’s about being ready for the tournament and this game was part of that journey,” he said.

Playing out of Moncton in Group F, England meets France on June 9 and Mexico on 13 June before heading to Montreal to take on Colombia on June 17.

Friday’s game was shown live by the BBC in England, where kickoff was midnight local time. 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press