Spirited Canucks set to tangle with unproven China
Finalists and hosts of the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship, Canada are proving themselves no one-trick ponies with a stunning display of direct, physical and attack-minded football at these finals in Thailand. But up against China PR - inscrutably organised sole Asian survivors from the first round - Ian Bridge's lasses will surely have their work cut out.
With finals top scorer Brittany Timko running riot up front, the bustling Canucks are looking a tough side to master. Her six goals in three Group A matches mark her out as the most volatile attacking threat in Siam. Despite dismissing the outrageous tally as merely the result of her teammates' hard work, the modest markswoman is quickly gaining ground on top scorer and good mate from Canada 2002 Christine Sinclair - and her seemingly unassailable record of ten.
Coach Bridge is quick to heap praise on his star striker's sumptuous skills, but also points out that she is far more than a mere goal-getter. "Sinclair was a pure goal scorer and one of the best," he told FIFA.com. "But Timko is a midfielder by trade. She is doing a fantastic job so far getting into the right positions and creating space and options for the midfielders to get her the ball. Hopefully she can keep it up"
With French-Canadian sensation Veronique Maranda doing a fine job in the role of creator, Bridge is hoping for more of the same from his dynamic side in the quarter-final. The team has combined for a stunning 12 goals in three matches, while only conceding four. Undoubtedly their best performance came in the final group match in Bangkok when, down 3-0 against group winners Germany, they roared back in gutsy fashion to draw level at 3-3 .
"Working hard, fighting hard, and giving it all we've got is a hallmark of our team," said defender Robyn Gayle upon arrival in Thailand. And it is precisely this trademark 'Canuck spirit' that saw the red-clad side swoop to survive with a point after a shaky start against the Germans.
And the boss is hoping for more fight from his warriors up against China in the Last Eight.
"I could not be more proud of my team's performance so far," Bridge - a FIFA World Cup veteran from Mexico 86 - said after the Germany match." The girls fought with tremendous heart and spirit and that will bode well heading in to our quarter-final with China."
"At a competition like this, every game is going to be a tough one and the China match will be no exception," he added. "They (China) are perhaps the most organised team from Group B and we will have a real tough test on our hands. But hopefully we can get by them and at least get to the final."
Chinese stars play a team game
Though not as bullish and attack-minded as the Canadians through the group stage, the Chinese have shown a great deal of skill and impressive organisation. Their two victories ( over Italy and Nigeria ) were both tight one-goal margins. Also, their one loss to Brazil was a slender 1-2 result. Never scoring more than two goals in a match at the finals, China are seemingly no match for the Canucks who are averaging an astonishing four goals per game - and are the only team so far to breach rampant Germany's rearguard.
But finishing second behind mighty Brazil on goal difference in a difficult Group B was surely no mean feat for the resurgent East Asians. And heading into the quarter-finals, coach Wang Haiming is feeling cautious but confident.
"To be honest my team is exhausted from the rigours of the group stage," he said after the loss to Brazil in which his side looked lethargic and out of sorts. "After a few much-needed days of rest we will be more able to play our brand of football."
"Generally I am thrilled with reaching the quarter-finals as this was our primary objective," the distinguished, soft-spoken boss went on to add. "But in truth I believe we are stronger than we have shown so far and can go even farther."
The 21 November clash at the Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok is bound to be a difficult one for the Asians, up against rampaging favourites Canada. But with a little rest, and a continued devotion to organised football, they may well be in with a shout.
Bridge though, is already looking ahead. "Hopefully we can get past China…and maybe meet up with Germany again," he said, proving full well anything less than victory is seen as defeat through the lenses of the tried and trusted 'Canuck Spirit.'