When the Canadian women's national team arrived at the stadium in Coventry on Friday and jumped off the bus for their quarterfinal against the host nation, a Great Britain fan commented aloud that they seemed a bit subdued.
Quiet confidence. Turns out that's all it was.
Maintaining that confidence will be key tonight as they head into their semi-final match against the United States at Manchester's legendary Old Trafford.
Now, after Canada fell 2-1 to Japan in their opening match I blogged that they needed to "mind the gap" between themselves and some of the more accomplished teams.
There is a flipside to that though, and that involves giving too much respect to your opponents.
I don't mean sportmanship, you should always respect your opponents in that regard.
And you should definitely respect their ability. Be mindful of their strengths and strategize to find tactics that will minimize them.
But you should never, ever, fear your opponent.
Look at any champion in any competition and you'll find a genuine belief that in any matchup - no matter talent or ability - they'll out perform their opponent and will ultimately get the better of them.
If you fear your opponent then you've already set yourself up for defeat. Inferiority becomes an excuse and losing becomes acceptable.
But Canada are not inferior, not to the Americans and not to anyone.
They've shown that so far during these Olympics. It hasn't mattered if they've gone down a goal (or two), if the calls haven't gone their way, or if the crowd was against them; through it all they've remained confident in their play. And because of that, they've been the superior team for the vast majority of their matches this tournament.
This is something that their counterparts have always done well. The Americans focus only on their own performance, and they certainly fear no one. It's a fierce competitiveness and a winning mentality.
But the best competitors in the world learn from their opponents, and I believe that Canada have finally done that. This is the most confident I've ever seen them play.
So tonight, it shouldn't matter who their opponent is.
It's simply another obstacle in the way of a gold medal.
The sacred temple
During my past week in England I've visited some of the most cherished cathedrals in the world. As a football fan though, one piece of architecture struck me more than any.
That, my friends, would be Wembley Stadium.
For those of you who've been there you'll certainly understand.
It's the most divine of venues. A 90,000-seat masterpiece that seemingly stretches into the clouds (you literally have to take five lengthy escalators to get to the top level).
Circling around the upper concourse provides a view to the outside stretching across thousands of kilokmetres, while the inside is even more spectacular.
The sight from anywhere is stunning, and the acoustics of the stadium carry like no other, making even a South Korea versus Gabon Olympic Group Stage match feel like a World Cup final.
This is where the Olympic final for the women's tourney is being held. So as usual, there's only one thing left to be said.
Go Canada Go!
Blog 1: The journey begins again
Blog 2: Mind the gap
Blog 3: A Geordie dream come true
Playing at legendary St. James Park in Newcastle on Tuesday will be quite the occasion for the players on Canada’s women’s national team, but it will be a particularly special moment for head coach John Herdman – a native of Newcastle.
Herdman grew up going to St. James Park and cheering on Newcastle United. Now he gets to coach on that very same pitch, on the world’s stage no less.
In my encounters with coach Herdman I’ve found him to be very friendly and easy to talk to.
While in London recently I met another couple from Newcastle. They too were equally friendly and a delight to talk to.
This is supposedly the norm with the “Geordies”, as the people of Newcastle are known. They’re very welcoming and love to have a good chat. Apparently they especially like to chat up anyone with an outside accent, so much so that my good colleague Simon “Hot” Fudge told me that I’ll never return from the shores of Newcastle. We’ll see Fudgy.
Kind people like that are easy to cheer for, so it’s no trouble to root for coach Herdman, and I’m sure his fellow Geordies will be behind him.
Here’s to hoping that the homecoming ends in style.
The situation, Geordie Shore style
Here’s the scenario for the Red and White.
Going into their final match of the group stage against Sweden, Canada are in good shape to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games – which would then leave them one win away from a medal game.
A win or draw on Tuesday would guarantee they advance, but even a loss could see them through as one of the two best third-place teams. They’re currently the best of the three third-place teams and hold a +5 goal differential on North Korea, who play the much-favoured United States.
It’s unlikely now that they’ll finish first in the group, as Japan lead them by a point and play South Africa, but truth be told they’d be better off not finishing first. That would mean a likely quarterfinal match with France, who’ve rapidly become a power in the women’s game.
Second place would mean a likely quarterfinal versus Great Britain. While it’s always a tough match against the home nation, it would certainly be winnable.
Third in the group probably means a date with either the United States or Brazil, which would not be ideal.
So essentially, the best bet for Canada is to beat Sweden and clinch second.
Make sure to cheer them on bright and early Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. PT.
Go Canada Go!
When you travel through the London Underground you'll hear an automated message at every station warning you to be cautious before you step off. “Mind the gap” says the kind voice, as it urges you to be aware of the distance between the train and the platform.
After a while the frequency of the announcement becomes somewhat comical. We get it, “mind the gap”. Thanks.
But the phrase has taken on meaning in the UK outside of just public transportation, and for many it’s no joke when they say “mind the gap”.
Take this year’s English Premier League race for instance. While it came down to the final seconds of the season for the title to be decided, Manchester City have no hesitation in reminding their rivals Manchester United to “mind the gap” between the two teams, as the Blues claimed their first league title in 44 years.
So on Wednesday, the Canadian women’s national team had to “mind the gap” when they played current FIFA Women’s World Cup champions Japan.
The Asian nation were unheralded before last year’s triumph, but they’ve proven to be worthy of their status. Canada, on the other hand, had an underwhelming campaign during the World Cup.
Now fast-forward back to Wednesday.
The first 20 minutes of the match did indeed show a gap between the two sides, as one team quite clearly looked superior to the other. That team, however, was the team in white with red trim.
As I sat only three rows from the field, I could see a Canadian side that was confident on the ball, dominating possession and not giving their opponents an inch when they did give the ball away.
The problem though was one we’ve seen all too many times before with Canadian national teams, an inability to find a creative way to generate scoring chances in the final third of the field.
The Japanese, meanwhile, were resolute in their play. Despite being outplayed, they remained patient and continued to play their game until they settled in and found opportunities. Once they did they punished the Canucks with two first-half goals.
Those goals knocked the Canadians off their game, and despite a second half goal which pleased the many red-clad fans in attendance, the Red and White couldn’t recover to get a result.
In the end, the match proved that Canada do indeed need to “mind the gap” as they work their way through this tournament. But after showing flashes of promise, they should also keep this in mind:
It’s still only a short step to the platform.
January’s CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament turned out to be one of the best soccer events we’ve ever had in this city. It was especially pleasing for myself and my family to watch my sister Brittany play in such an electric atmosphere in her hometown, something I know she’d dreamt of for years.
Pardon what may seem like exaggeration, but I probably have the best sister in the world. She is the most loving and caring person I know and always thinks of her family above herself. As her baby brother, she’s very protective. On the positive I’ve always been pampered by her, particularly with gifts from her travels. On the other side, most guys will worry about whether or not they can bring a girl home to their mother, for me it’s my sister.
To see someone succeed who shows you such love brings extreme gratification. So the pride and joy I felt at BC Place that night in seeing the team qualify for the Olympic Games inspired me to make a quick decision.
I’m going to London baby!
It wasn’t only the swell of emotion that made the decision easy, but also the fact that myself nor anyone else in my family had ever been able to travel far to see Britt play in a major international tournament.
Growing up, if I wasn’t playing myself I’d be at all of Britt’s tournaments. From anywhere in the Lower Mainland, to the island, across the border, or as far as Winnipeg for nationals, we were always there. But as she continued to rise up and eventually play with the national team, it made it harder to tag along. With cost and time off required from school and work, we just weren’t able to attend and show our support in person.
That’s not to say that we didn’t go to some massive tournaments. I’ll never forget the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship held right here in BC and in Edmonton. That was the first milestone for what has been a golden generation of women’s national team players for Canada, and seeing 47,784 people pack Commonwealth stadium was nothing short of amazing.
I’ll never forget the medal ceremonies after that game. All the Canadian players were bitterly disappointed to have fallen to the United States in extra time. Yet still, amidst the heartbreak, my sister spotted myself and my parents in the crowd and blew us a kiss. That pretty well sums up how awesome she is.
There was also the 2003 Women’s World Cup which was held in the United States after original host nation China was deemed too dangerous due to SARS. My family certainly wasn’t complaining about the venue change. With knockout matches in Portland, we were able to go watch the quarterfinal win over China and semifinal match against Sweden.
That was a magical run for such a young team.
Now, my mom and I are back watching them in person, almost as if it’s all come full circle.
This time though, just maybe, that kiss will be blown with a gold medal around her neck.