Bridge and Canada keeping their poise
After storming through the group stage undefeated, Canadian coach Ian Bridge must be feeling pretty confident. He has on his side the tournament's top scorer, Christine Sinclair, one of the revelations of the competition, Kara Lang, and of course they are playing in front of their own supporters. But, like any coach, especially one as experienced as Bridge, he is not looking past his next opponent.
"Once you get into the knockout round, any team can beat any other ... England (the side they will meet in the quarterfinals Sunday) are a well organized team, and we will not take them lightly."
But, there was no hiding his pleasure with how his team seemed focused on beating Nigeria in their final group match. "I am obviously very happy with the result of tonight's match. Nigeria were a fine opponent, and I'm thrilled that we scored two goals while conceding none. I think we were strong on both sides of the pitch. We didn't need to win the match, we were already through, but that's not how we want to play, and I don't think that's how champions should play."
And so, there's the rub. Bridge is trying to get his girls to play like champions, to perform with that sense of entitlement and confidence, while at the same time trying to keep that concept in some distant, futuristic part of their brain. His side have already felt the nerves in this tournament, when they gave a up a lead to fall behind to Denmark in their first match. They eventually settled down and won in dramatic fashion, but clearly it shows the importance of team psychology in an event like this.
"I think we've relaxed now. We were pretty tense, with all of the build-up and waiting and everything. But, after the Denmark match, we enjoyed the experience much more against Japan. I think now we feel comfortable, and the crowds have been great."
It helps when you have players like Sinclair and Lang at your disposal. Both have had success with the full national team, and their play for the U-19s has been nothing short of spectacular. Sinclair has scored five goals through the first three matches, while Lang has added three.
"Christine has been great. She creates things on her own. She's a quiet leader for us. It's great having a player like her for sure," says Bridge.
And the 15-year-old Lang, who scored the improbable long-range winner against Denmark?
"Well, she doesn't play like a 15-year-old," he says. "She comes across like a veteran already. She's very poised."
And perhaps that's what it will come down to as the hosts move forward in the tournament. They have the strength and the skill to play with any of the teams left in the field, but will they handle the expectations and the pressure? Can they keep their poise? With Bridge at the helm, talent on the field like Sinclair and Lang, and enthusiastic crowds in Edmonton cheering them on, one wouldn't bet against them.