The Papua New Guinea adventure is over for Canada’s U-20 women. After three defeats by Spain (5-0), Nigeria (3-1) and Japan (5-0), the Canucks must now book their flights home after the group stage. While their disappointment was understandable after the final whistle at Port Moresby’s National Football Stadium on Sunday evening, encouragement soon began pouring in from their homeland.
“This side is the youngest Canada has ever sent to such a major tournament,” said senior women’s national team coach John Herdman in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “This is about the players gathering experience at the highest level. The past has shown that success at youth level does not equate to success at senior level.
"My message to the players is that they shouldn’t give up learning and improving. Dealing with victory and, most importantly, defeat is vital for their future careers," he added.
In 2006, The Best FIFA Women's Coach 2016 nominee Herdman became the youngest coach to take part in a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup at the age of 31 years and 29 days. "I was in charge of New Zealand in those days, and it was the country’s first World Cup appearance,” he recalled. “That experience was simply incredible. Everything was so well organised. Going toe to toe with other sides at the highest level is the greatest thing for any coach. Managing a national team is completely different compared to club football. The number of tournaments you compete in is vitally important for the success and continuing development of coaches and players alike on their way to the top."
The start of a unique career
One footballer who has already reached the very pinnacle of the sport is Canada’s greatest superstar Christine Sinclair. Now the country’s most capped player, the striker has made 250 international appearances and won two bronze medals at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
The Best FIFA Women's Player 2016 nominee first stepped on to the world stage on home turf at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2002, where she scored ten goals to both collect the adidas Golden Boot and receive the Golden Ball for player of the tournament. “I can still remember that World Cup and the support of our fans so well,” she said. “Playing in those big stadiums was a unique experience. It was the start of my career and perhaps also the beginnings of the success of women’s football in Canada."
Turning her attention to the next generation, Sinclair told FIFA.com: "Playing at a World Cup while you’re still young helps you to deal differently with pressure and expectation. The journey has only just begun for the team in Papua New Guinea. In Canada we’re looking at the bigger picture. Whether positive or negative, that kind of experience helps players – and thus the whole side – to develop. They’ve got to get their heads up quickly and look to the future."
This is particularly true of Deanne Rose, who was among the most high-profile players in Papua New Guinea, where she was competing in her third major tournament of the year. After winning Olympic bronze with Sinclair in Rio this summer, featuring in five games and scoring against hosts Brazil in the bronze medal match along the way, the midfielder was also called up to Canada’s U-17 Women’s World Cup squad, where she found the target in their 1-1 group stage draw against Germany.
With Rose and captain Bianca St Georges just two of many players already beginning to break into the senior ranks, at least one of them may be able to look back with pride on the U-20 Women’s World Cup 2016 that took place on the other side of the world and, like Sinclair, say: “That was where my career began.”