What a wonderful time of the year it is for the soccer fan. The FIFA Women’s World Cup has begun with a bang – Canada vs Germany in the opener with 70,000 plus fans jammed into the stadium and millions watching worldwide. The German side is the favorite to win the cup on its home soil; their opponent, a Canadian side that enjoyed success on the field while qualifying, but with turmoil off the field. The Canadians have been drawn into the “group of death” which simply put means one contender for the cup will go home early.
The Canadian side started brightly and did something this veteran coach had not seen from Team Canada ever – high pressure. We (Canada) don’t do that. We send one lone striker up front to run useless miles and drop the entire team behind the ball to defend. We then defend our guts out hoping for a mistake from our opponent or a roll out set piece to create a goal. This tactic goes completely out with the trash if our opponent scores first and early in the match. A huge ovation for Coach Morace’s tactical and attitude change. Gone were the long balls, needless fouls and excuses, all replaced by a possession game with tight small passing , players interchanging positions, and more eager to jump up from the back to link up with strikers. I’m very impressed.
So there was hope and inside six minutes our captain misses from just inside the penalty area. What an early quality chance against a team that hadn’t allowed a goal in seven previous matches. The stadium was stunned and we had hope.
Now to think that the number 2 ranked team in the world was going to take things lightly is a slight understatement – more like a we have poked a bear with a sharp stick. The Germans got the nerves out and found their legs. We were caught ball watching as McLeod make a remarkable save to keep things level. We were found watching again as Garefrekes finished a strong movement and cross, 1-0 to the Germans. We tried to play an offside trap but our left defender was late setting the line, Da Mbabi made no mistake as she went in all alone, 2 nil Germany to the half.
I have to tell you fellow footballers, I saw two mistakes made and both were punished. That’s the difference at this level of football. One mistake, or a bounce, or the soccer Gods smiling in your favor could be the difference in securing a full 3 points. How were we to come back ? The Germans don’t allow goals – period , let alone 2 to draw, 3 to win.
At least we tried. A t times we were caught out in the back and Garefrekes missed a sitter in front of goal. The game had lost its luster and Germany was defending comfortably. Then a through ball to our star striker that she tried to get a hold of, so close to it, could she round the defender? A blow to the face – no intent or malice mind you – but nonetheless a blow to Sinclair’s face. She lay motionless, stunned really. All of us who have played know the feeling of a hard elbow to the nose, tears streaming, blood and dizziness. Sinclair was being treated by medical and we were being treated to the umpteenth replay of the elbow.
Now with the drama gone from the game and who would win, all eyes turned to our captain on the sideline. When we next saw Sinclair she was begging to go back in. Medical showed Coach Morace that Sinclair’s nose was broken. Our Captain begged to go back in and finally Coach Morace agreed.
What a moment. Such high drama. Brilliant.
Now like a Hollywood script, Sinclair curls a brilliant free kick into the top right corner. Germany had conceded a goal at last and Sinclair saluted her coach as if to say, “Thank you.”
But unlike Hollywood, Canada fell short, posting a 2-1 loss to the Germans on opening day. Here’s my opening question, “What did you expect?” I expected to hear, we are so happy we competed, or at least it was close or ,my all time favorite, we were really happy we didn’t get embarrassed. To my utter surprise I saw disappointment and frustration.
No excuses. Sinclair didn’t want to talk about her nose or answer another dumb question about going back in the game. They had just lost and they were angry about it and frustrated about the mistakes they made. It’s about time!!!!
No excuses – aaaaah brilliant. Can you ever imagine Michael Jordan saying to Scottie Pippen, “Hey man, I got the flu so you handle this? I need to rest.” Tiger pulling into the driveway and telling Rocco, “I’m not playing in the playoff today ‘cause my leg really hurts”, or Sydney not tapping his stick and yelling to Iggy for the pass and the overtime winner because Sydney couldn’t handle the pressure.
I would have fallen out of my chair and spilled my Gatorade if Sinclair didn’t go back in. She’s waited four years for this moment and she’s our captain. Courageous or brave? I don’t think so. An elite athlete doing what she has trained all her life to do and her team needed her. No surprise our captain went back in and scored – it’s her life – it’s the World Cup.
Oh Captain. Oh Christine. Oh Canada.
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Al Fernandes is a coach, father and footballer. He is the Director of the Al Fernandes Soccer Academy in Lethbridge