EDMONTON — Coach John Herdman says a motivated Canada can go deep into the Women’s World Cup.
“Are we the favourites for this event? No,” Herdman told a news conference Friday on the eve of the competition. “Can we get on a roll in this tournament with our country behind us? Yes.
“This group of women believe they can go all the way and they’ve got a greater purpose. They’ve got a greater purpose than any other team at this event. A much greater purpose. And when you’ve got one of them, it gives you a chance of going places you never thought you could get to.”
The Canadian women, ranked eighth in the world, kick off the competition Saturday against No. 16 China before what is expected to be a capacity crowd at Commonwealth Stadium.
After China, Canada plays No. 17 New Zealand on Thursday in Edmonton and the 12th-ranked Netherlands on June 15 in Montreal.
Canada is hoping to improve on its poor tournament history, other than in 2004 when it finished fourth. The Canadian women, who were dead last in 2011 under former coach Carolina Morace, have an overall World Cup record of 4-11-3.
But Canada is coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2012 London Olympics and enter the tournament brimming with confidence under Herdman.
For the workaholic Herdman, the tournament comes after more than three years of meticulous preparation.
“The journey’s prepared us. We’re ready to go,” the English native said.
Herdman, in an eloquent answer, spoke warmly about the women he coaches and what they had done for him.
“Look, the simplicity behind it is they have definitely got the best out of me as a man. And I think I’ve got the best out of them as women … They’ve pushed me to new levels and new limits. They’ve grown off the pitch as leaders and when you have bigger and better leaders around you, you have to become a bigger and better leader too.”
Goalie Erin McLeod said of Herdman: “He’s pushed me as a human being every single day … It’s about being the best people that we can be first and then obviously doing what we need to do on the soccer pitch.”
That includes scoring goals. Canada has been limited to one goal or less in its last 15 matches during which it has gone 8-5-2. The losses came again Tier 1 teams in France, Germany, Japan (twice) and England.
Captain Christine Sinclair, who is entering her fourth World Cup, has seven goals in 12 tournament matches. Canada will be looking to forwards Melissa Tancredi and Adriana Leon and midfielder Sophie Schmidt, among others, to help lead the way.
Tancredi has yet to score since returning to the team after essentially a two-year hiatus to complete her chiropractor studies.
“Look, she’s a big game-player, we all know that about Mel,” Herdman said. “She got her four goals at the Olympics which I think changed the Olympics for us because it took a bit more pressure off Christine, it took the tactical focus off Christine for the opposition teams. But one thing you know with Mel, when the big games come she’ll deliver for you.
Herdman has injury concerns at fullback with Rhian Wilkinson (hamstring) and Marie-Eve Nault (calf). He used forward Josee Belanger, to great effect, there in last week’s 1-0 friendly win over England. Veteran midfielder Diana Matheson continues to work her way back from knee surgery and a broken foot.
The 52-match tournament, expanded to 24 teams from 16 last time out, runs through July 5 in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.
Organizers are no doubt be hoping that the spotlight swings back to soccer Saturday.
The tournament was dogged by bad press for months over the decision to use artificial turf rather than grass, prompting a human rights complaint from a group of elite players. The mushrooming FIFA corruption scandal created another dark cloud on the eve of the tournament, with Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani asked whether bribes were involved in getting the tournament.
There have been some wobbles elsewhere, as well. A scheduled tour of the Ottawa venue was postponed Friday.
“Although Ottawa Lansdowne Stadium is incredibly well prepared for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, the Stadium Preparation Tour will not take place today. We will re-schedule for a later date if necessary,” FIFA advised in a media release.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press