As the world of football counts down to the reveal of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ official emblem and slogan – in Paris on 19 September – we are interviewing major figures from the women’s game about the history, the present and the future of the Women’s World Cup.
Only a select band of footballers experience the sensation of playing at a major tournament in their homeland – and Karina LeBlanc became one of them when she was called up to represent her country as a reserve goalkeeper for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. The country’s most-capped custodian retired from international football after the competition before hanging up her boots altogether at the end of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season in September 2015.
“Being the host team was amazing,” an enthusiastic LeBlanc said in an interview with FIFA.com. “You couldn’t even walk down the street. Everyone was watching it in our country, and it wasn’t just the young girls anymore. It was grown men, grandfathers and grandmothers. They all just loved the fact that we were hosting the World Cup. The atmosphere at the stadium was unbelievable,” she added.
“Everybody loved being Canadian,” LeBlanc said. “It connected our country on a whole different level. People were just so warm and welcoming to other countries; they were wearing English flags and stuff like that. The country changed, and to this day, they still talk about what a great event it was for families.”
Did you know?
- LeBlanc was named as a UNICEF Ambassador in 2013
- She founded her own company, iS4, with Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Rhian Wilkinson
- In February 2017, she successfully completed FIFA’s Female Leadership Development Programme
Much has changed since LeBlanc made her international debut for Canada on 21 July 1998, not only in the life of the now 37-year-old – who spent part of her childhood on the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica – but also in women’s football, as a whole. “When I started my career, we would have maybe eight people in the stands,” she recalled. “When I ended my career in 2015 at my home World Cup, there were sold-out stadiums and the matches were shown around the world. The game has grown in terms of both the number of women who are playing it and the amount of people who support it.”
When the next FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in France in 2019, many onlookers will once again be captivated by the athleticism and aesthetics of women’s football – not just in the host nation, but around the world.
"My advice to the French players? First of all, make sure you lose to Canada,” LeBlanc laughed, before adding seriously: “We did so much training on the mental side of it. Just make sure you’re prepared for something you have never experienced before.”
Although a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to England marked the end of the road for the goalkeeper and her team-mates in 2015, Canadians remained steadfastly behind their team. “The French will see how their country truly supports them and backs them, no matter what,” she said. “We lost earlier than we wanted to, but I’ll never forget the next day, when a man walked up to me and said: ‘I have never been so proud to be Canadian’. These are the kind of moments the French players will have. I wish them all the best and simply say: just take in the moment and embrace it all. There will never be another moment like this in your lifetime.”