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Canada’s women’s soccer coach explains what’s on the line

John Herdman says a win over Germans would help secure future of the sport in Canada


 
Zimbabwe's Kudakwashe Basopo, left, Canada's Josee Belanger, center, and Canada's Diana Matheson go for a header during a group F match of the women's Olympic football tournament between Canada and Zimbabwe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Zimbabwe’s Kudakwashe Basopo, left, Canada’s Josee Belanger, center, and Canada’s Diana Matheson during a match Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Canada has already made history once by beating second-ranked Germany at the Olympic soccer tournament. And coach John Herdman says another win over the Germans in Tuesday’s semifinal is more than a step up the medal podium.

It can help secure soccer’s future in Canada.

“It will keep this program moving forward, so we can do it again and again and again,” Herdman told a news conference Monday at Mineirao stadium.

“Because hopefully it generates the funding that’s required to make sure (in) 2020 we can do the same, 2024 we can do the same. Because why? We’ve got one of the biggest talent pools in the world. We’ve just never had the system to produce it. And the system has just revealed itself in this tournament with the kids that have played.

“So it (Tuesday’s game) means a lot to us. And to the country and the program’s future.”

More history can be made along the way. A win will mean 10th-ranked Canada—a bronze medallist four years ago in London—goes for gold Friday against either No. 6 Sweden or No. 8 Brazil at Rio’s storied Maracana stadium.

The semifinal losers will meet earlier that day for bronze in Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena.

Despite the earlier win, Herdman maintains the Canadians are underdogs against “a juggernaut like Germany.”

“It’s theirs to lose,” he said.

German coach Silvia Neid disagreed, praising Canada while calling the game a “50-50” proposition.

Herdman said his team will have to take its chances Tuesday.

“There’ll be one or two moments and we’ll take them or we won’t,” he said. “That’s football. You don’t get many moments against Germany. They’re that good.”

Canada goes into the match on a high, having already beaten Germany, No. 3 France, No. 5 Australia and No. 93 Zimbabwe at the tournament.

It dispatched the Germans 2-1 in preliminary-round play with key players like Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie, Diana Matheson and Stephanie Labbe starting on the bench. It marked the first time a Canadian senior team—men or women—had beaten Germany. The Canadian women had lost all 12 previous meetings dating back to 1994.

Canada's line up players pose for photos before their group F match of the women's Olympic football tournament against Zimbabwe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Canada’s line up players pose for photos before their group F match against Zimbabwe, Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Four years ago, Herdman and Canada were facing another Olympic semifinal. They lost 4-3 to the U.S. after extra time before beating France 1-0 for the bronze medal.

Herdman believes the two situations are worlds apart. Back then, he was just nine months into the job and trying to turn around a broken team that had finished last at the 2011 World Cup.

Today, he has had four years to plan for these Olympics with his own talent pipeline, system and strategies in place. His players are all on point.

“They’ve got great tournament experience, even the youth players. So we don’t lose a second of time off the pitch,” he said. “Everything’s focused around what we wanted to achieve.

“Quietly behind the scenes we knew what we were capable of. We would never say that publicly, but we knew that this team could push. We had a four-year plan in place and we’ve worked diligently to believe it. We’re starting to see the fruits of that for sure.”

Herdman says his 2012 squad was driven by its team culture and spirit. This group has the same spirit but superior technical skills.

“There’s something to say for tournaments where you have 18 players, small rosters in tournaments with two-day turnarounds,” he said with a smile. “Everyone feels part of it because they have to be. People get suspended. People get injured. And all of a sudden everyone’s played. And once people play—players playing are happy players. So it’s easy to keep the culture where it needs to be.”

Herdman said Allysha Chapman, who was in a sling Sunday after her shoulder popped out and back in when pancaked into the turf in Friday’s quarter-final win over France, was slated to train Monday and would be assessed afterwards.

Fellow fullback Josee Belanger is suspended after collecting two yellow cards. Herdman still has a first-choice fullback in Ashley Lawrence and a 179-cap veteran in Rhian Wilkinson at his disposal.

While Herdman was almost evangelical in his comments from the podium, Neid was all-business and not giving much in her subsequent meeting with the media. When a reporter asked about her team practising penalties with crowd noise piped in, she fired back by asking how he knew given it was a closed practice.

Canada's players acknowledge the crowd after a group F match of the women's Olympic football tournament between Canada and Zimbabwe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Canada’s players acknowledge the crowd after a group F match Aug. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

Between the two of them, Germany and Canada have won bronze at the last four Olympics.

The German women were third in 2000, 2004 and 2008 but failed to qualify for the 2012 Games, finishing behind France and Sweden at the 2011 World Cup. Host Britain automatically got the third European spot for London.

The German women qualified for Rio as one of the two-best UEFA finishers at last summer’s World Cup, where it placed fourth.

Tuesday’s game will be contested in an imposing circular setting. Built in 1965, Mineirao has accommodated more than 100,000 fans but has been modernized to turn it into a 58,000-seater. It is home to fierce local rivals Atletico and Cruzeiro.

The Germans have some history at the stadium. The German men thumped Brazil 7-1 here in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup.

Neid made a point of noting that game, dryly suggesting that the locals won’t look on her team kindly as a result.


 

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