Bochum, Germany – The locker room was silent after the match. There was nothing to say.
France out-played Canada both in technique and in heart, and in post-game interviews the Canadian players struggled to hold back their tears.
The 4-0 loss to France is heartbreaking for the team, who’ve been working towards this tournament for two years. They have spent the last several months alone in-and-out of training camps in Rome.
“It stings,” said midfielder Sophie Schmidt. “I mean a loss is a loss and to lose 4-0 is kind of even worse, it stings more.”
“Sick to my stomach over tonight’s loss…so sorry to all those we let down,” defender Emily Zurrer tweeted. “We are better than we were today.”
But more than the team, it’s also heartbreaking for Canadians in general. After the devastating Stanley Cup in Vancouver, the women’s national team gave the country a new dark horse to support, a tough-as-guts side that put a lot of male player to shame.
I don’t say this lightly (having dedicated much of my life to the sport), but suddenly Canada cared about women’s soccer. I don’t remember a time when women’s soccer has featured so prominently on the Canadian (and international) stage.
In the past I’d have been surprised if the average Canadian could name a player on the team.
And suddenly the team’s captain Christine Sinclair was trending on Twitter.
No one got hit by lightning, and despite her admission that the “coach has the responsibility for everything,” few can put the blame entirely on Carolina Morace. She’s pressed her team to play possession ball, fast fluid soccer – the exact game that France took to the field, and Canada did not.
It’s true, France played a nearly flawless match, moving as a team and capitalizing on every opportunity. Their four goals were picture perfect. More than anything, though, it was heart that won the match.
As soon as France scored that first goal against Canada in the 24th minute, they went into overdrive. Meanwhile, Canada panicked – both on the back-line and up front. They made several mistakes in defence, which turned into goals. And up front, they missed the net time and time again. The numbers speak for themselves; Canada had no shots on net.
“The heart and the drive and all that – France seemed to have more of it today and that’s what ended up winning it,” said goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
So what went wrong?
It’s hard to say. A lot of players themselves were lost for words. All I saw was panic.
When I panic, I revert to the basics: grilled cheese and tomato soup. In team Canada’s case, it was equally unexciting: kick and run.
“Under pressure, we have a tendency to revert to Pelleruding the ball upfield, methinks,” Tweeted blogger Jamie Doyle during the game, in reference to the dump and chase soccer style taught by former Canadian coach Evan Pellerud.
Call it momentum, call it heart, call it courage, call what you like. But “when you lose it, it’s hard to get back,” said Schmidt.
Sinclair came off the field late in the game with pain after an impact to her broken nose. But this wasn’t the Sinclair of the first match demanding to go back on the field. She went back on, and hats off to her for that. But there seemed no sense of urgency; she seemed broken in more ways than one.
Well I’m sure the team’s going to have a good rest after this tournament, but they don’t have long to get their game back in shape before the Olympic qualifiers next January in Vancouver.
On a larger scale about the future of the program, I agree with CBC Sports commentator Jason DeVos. The problems start from the bottom – the focus has always been on winning rather than on player development.
As a result, both on the men’s side and the women’s side, there aren’t enough really good technical players for the coaches to choose from, especially for the type of system that Morace is trying to implement.
Another obvious gap is the lack of a professional league in Canada. France, Germany and the USA (among others) have top-tier professional leagues to recruit and develop their players.
Many players (myself included) grew up playing provincial soccer, playing at the national training centres, national training camps and university. But then right after university, we drop out of the system.
Besides a few Canadian teams in the 2nd-tier W-league, there’s no way for coaches to scout new players. And more importantly, there’s no way for players to get the experience and exposure needed to play on an international level.
It speaks volumes that 10 players on the French team play on the same club team in Lyon. Those players are practising and playing together every day, every week.
Having been a player myself, I understand how gutted everyone on the team is.
But the next game against Nigeria has to be about heart. The Nigerians have proved themselves a tough team (with 1-0 loses to both Germany and France).
Canada has got its work cut out for them if they want to end this tournament on a high.
Follow Anjali Nayar on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/anjalinayar