Canuck giant-killers hungry for more

Canada arrive in Trinidad and Tobago with the kind of fearsome reputation that comes with slaying a giant. The young ladies from the Great White North knocked out arch-rivals USA in the qualifying competition to make the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago the first women’s world finals in which the United States will not take part. Canada coach Bryan Rosenfeld is suitably proud of his charges and their accomplishments so far, and is hoping for more of the same here in T&T.

“We didn’t have a lot of time together as a team before the qualifiers, so I was thrilled with what we were able to do,” said the coach who led Canada to their first U-17 CONCACAF championship in Costa Rica in March. “We did what was required and then some. The players learned quickly, and everything got in line for us in Costa Rica.”

Led by qualifying top-scorer Nour Ghoneim, the roving central presence of Diamond Simpson and goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, the Canadians began their qualifying campaign at a canter with wins over Jamaica and Panama. However, they looked likely to be derailed by a demoralising 1-0 loss to Mexico in their third match. Far from folding in the face of such adversity, the young Canucks dug deep. “We became a different team after the loss to Mexico,” the coach told FIFA.com, pointing to the group’s grit, determination and “tactically flexible” approach.

Of course the expectation gets a little bigger when you knock out the States.
Canada U-17 women's coach Bryan Rosenfeld

The next game brought a meeting with the much-feared Americans, runners-up at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008. Canada were given little more than an outside chance, but the coach had full faith as his team had “put in the hard work to rebuild” after their stumble against the Mexicans. And after 120 minutes of hard, goalless graft, Canada kept their nerve to score all five of their spot kicks and win out 5-3 in a shootout. “The USA weren’t the best they could have been on the day,” Rosenfeld humbly admitted. “It was a one-off; at youth level internationally anything can happen on the day.

“Of course the expectation gets a little bigger when you knock out the States,” added Rosenfeld, who went on to see his side beat the host Costa Ricans in the semi-finals before avenging their earlier loss by edging Mexico in the final. “Even though the pressure will be greater than it might be otherwise, it also means that the other teams in Trinidad and Tobago will have to respect us.”

Tricky group test
The first team that will need to respect the giant-slaying Canucks is Ghana, with South American powers Brazil and European surprise package Republic of Ireland laying in wait in a formidable Group D. Rosenfeld says his Canadians “can be a top team” at these Caribbean finals, but the first challenge, as ever, is the group stage. “It’s very even,” he said. “Everyone is a threat to everyone else. At this level there’s no room for mistakes and you have to be consistent.”

Rosenfeld coached boys early in his career in Ontario, but he found a mentor in the women’s game when Norwegian tactician Even Pellerud arrived to take over the Canadian senior women’s side in 1999. He could well come up against his former maestro here in Trinidad as Pellerud will be coaching the host side, having also taken over as technical director of T&T’s fledgling women’s program.

It would be a confrontation the young coach would relish, as Rosenfeld has every confidence in his side as they hunt what would be a first-ever world title for Canada at any age level, men’s or women’s. “We are flexible; we can change our look when we need to,the coach concluded, a ripple of real desire audible. "You don’t see that very often at this level.”