When you meet Carolina Moraces in person, the first things you sense are her passion and total commitment to her job. That should arguably come as little surprise, as we have arrived at the start of a year in which the charismatic Italian is determined to make history.
Looking ahead to this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the Canada coach has set her sights on leading the fast-improving north Americans to their best-ever placing at the global showdown. And in the light of recent results, it is a far from unrealistic goal.
The women’s footballing headlines are customarily dominated by the Canadians’ bigger neighbours to the south, but while the USA were forced into a round of play-offs before booking their place in Germany, their arch-rivals breezed through 2010 on a morale and confidence-boosting roll. Moraces’ troops opened up by winning an invitation tournament in Cyprus, overcoming the likes of England, Italy and New Zealand on the way. The team spearheaded by superstar Christine Sinclair topped that by travelling to Mexico and unexpectedly winning the North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) qualifying tournament for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
That was by no means the end to a tremendous winning streak, as Canada rounded off the year with victory at a four-nations tournament in Brazil, scoring a first-ever hat-trick of international trophies in the space of 12 months. After beating the Netherlands and Mexico 5-0 and 1-0 respectively, two draws with FIFA Women’s World Cup runners-up Brazil (0-0, 2-2) enabled the north Americans to beat the hosts to first place on goal difference.
The most recent results confirm that the nation currently lying ninth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking are a decent outside bet for this summer’s showdown in Europe, especially as 27-year-old skipper Sinclair is in the form of her life. Boosted by the experience of almost 150 internationals, and with a century of goals already to her name, the finals in June and July could yet be Sinclair’s finest hour.
The hiring of Morace to head the national set-up now looks an inspired move. She provided a breath of fresh air and has instilled a hitherto unsuspected winning mentality in her players. The 46-year-old took the reins in February 2009, and truly began to harvest the fruits of her painstaking labour in the second year of her tenure. The players and the press have learned to respect and admire the former world-class Italy international.
"I think she comes from a place where soccer is life, and it's just a totally different standard, from training sessions to the way you look at the game and the way you play the game. She's brought that to us, we've embraced it and we're extremely happy to have that element,” said midfielder Diana Matheson
Morace herself is pleased with the way her players have progressed in recent months. "We’re athletic, and we’ve improved technically. We’ve arrived at a point in time where we’re naturally keeping the ball on the floor,” she explained to FIFA.com. "What’s important for us is to prepare well, and spend as long as possible together as a group. Our domestic league isn’t that strong, so we have to try and close the gap to the better teams by working very hard indeed when we do come together."
However, the coach is less delighted with the Official Draw for the 2011 finals, which has handed her team the immense challenge of taking on the hosts in the Opening Match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The mighty Germans inflicted a 5-0 defeat on the Canadians in a friendly last September, handing Morace’s side their only meaningful setback in 2010.
"Obviously, playing the holders Germany, in front of their home crowd in Berlin in the Opening Match, is a big ask,” Morace admitted to FIFA.com, adding that fellow Group A rivals France and Nigeria would be no pushovers either.
However, the Italian is a fighter, and an optimist too. "The Germans might be a little nervous in the circumstances, in front of such a huge crowd," she said. "I see no reason why we shouldn’t take something from the Opening Match, provided we play well. But obviously, the Germans are favourites to win the group, although I have to say they didn’t exactly dominate us in our recent friendly."