Canadian siblings Mark and Valerie Sanderson knew from an early age that they were destined to succeed in sport. The only question was, would glory come for them on grass or ice?
Both were promising football and ice hockey players, but five years ago they chose to pursue different career paths and are now willing each other to succeed in the sports they left behind. Now a member of his university’s ice hockey team, the 18-year-old Mark has been glued to the TV set back home in Canada watching his younger sister help the Canucks make steady progress at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012.
“Football was a little more intense and I had to make the sacrifice and give up hockey,” explained Valerie in conversation with FIFA.com. “It’s a more masculine sport in my opinion and I was one of the best players in my soccer team, so it made sense really.
“Everyone said I should choose football, but at the end of the day it was my decision. My brother knew I had a future in either sport and he didn’t try to influence me. He’s always right behind me and he’s very proud of me. He’s watched all our matches here and he tells me to play the way I know how.”
It Valerie was who sent the Canucks into the last eight by scoring the only goal in their defeat of Azerbaijan, teeing up a quarter-final tie with Korea DPR on Thursday. The No10 could well have a big say in the outcome of that game, especially if she can reproduce the kind of form she showed in the qualifiers back in May.
The forward was one of the stars of the CONCACAF qualifying competition and enjoyed a particularly productive afternoon in the final group match against Guatemala, coming on with 25 minutes remaining and with the scoreline at 2-1 in her side’s favour to score a quick-fire hat-trick and seal Canada’s place in the last-four.
“Everyone was expecting us to win that match easily but it was pretty tight in the second half,” said Sanderson. “I came on near the end and scored three goals, and it was one of the best games of my life. It would be amazing to go and do it again.”
The talismanic striker, whose biggest inspiration is her compatriot Christine Sinclair, was on target again in the semis, scoring the only goal of the game to defeat Mexico and secure Canada their ticket to Azerbaijan 2012. Though she would like to be making even more of a contribution and to play a decisive role once more against the North Koreans, she would be more than happy to sacrifice individual glory for any kind of win come Thursday.
“We haven’t scored many goals here because we haven’t created that many opportunities,” she said, in reference to Canada’s modest goal tally of three so far. “We haven’t lost our focus, though, and we’ve done enough to secure a place in the last eight. It would be great to score more goals, but the main thing is for us to play our game. The goals will come if we stick together and stay strong and united.”
“[North] Korea are a good side but we’re an excellent team ourselves,” she added, rounding off the chat. “They’re quicker than us and they’re very good dribblers, and we need to be on our guard against them when they attack. We want a place on the podium, though. That’s our goal and if we can win this game, it’ll be a dream come true for us.”