Canada are charged with the unenviable task of taking on hosts and reigning champions Germany in their opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™. They will not be fazed by the challenge, however, as they arrive in Germany fresh from a triumphant qualifying campaign.
The Canucks, who host the finals in 2015, finished the preliminaries unbeaten with a tally of 17 goals scored and none conceded. This impressive form led to them being crowned queens of CONCACAF, and the success was thanks in no small part to the heroics of goalkeeper Karina Leblanc.
Germany 2011 will be Leblanc’s fourth appearance at a FIFA Women’s World Cup, and she is sure to play a key role in Canada’s push for success. Leblanc will no doubt be high on confidence after her displays in qualifying, and the role of tournament outsiders will allow the Canucks to play with extra freedom in Germany.
Canada in safe hands
Keeping clean sheets is all part of the job for Leblanc, but she is quick to acknowledge the sterling efforts of the defensive line in front of her. “We were very well-organised in defence and I didn’t have to make that many saves,” said the 31-year old. “It really is a team effort. We’re a tight group and we all defend together. We’ve made huge progress in this area.”
Leblanc made her international debut back in 1998, so she is well-placed to assess the relative merits of the current Canadian squad. Indeed, the goalkeeper who is without a club at the moment, believes Canada have “moved up a level” since the appointment of coach Carolina Morace in 2009. Their largest defeat under Morace’s stewardship came in 2009, with a 5-0 friendly loss to none other than Germany.
Leblanc has nothing but praise for Morace, who scored 105 goals in 153 appearances for the Italian women’s international side. “She has really pushed us physically, tactically and intellectually. This has had a great impact on our game,” she said.
With Morace at the helm, Canada will have high hopes of improving on the fourth-place finish they achieved in the USA in 2003. Their upturn in fortunes is not dissimilar to that enjoyed by USA under Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, and Morace’s European experience could prove to be a real advantage in Germany.
“The challenge in front of us is a big one, but the pressure to perform clearly lies with Germany,” said Morace back in March as she reflected on Canada’s tricky draw. Indeed, Berlin’s Olympiastadion will be packed to the rafters on Sunday, and with all eyes on the hosts, pressure-free Canada will fancy their chances of springing an upset.