The good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up. A year ago, the Canada women's team was disheartened, demoralised and in disarray, but the contrast now could hardly be more striking.
For the first time in the history of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, the Maple Leafs have reached the semi-finals and have a medal firmly within their sights. Only 12 months ago, the North Americans were packing their bags for home just three matches into the FIFA Women's World Cup™.
The faces are largely the same, but the team of today is barely recognisable from the side at Germany 2011, as deep disappointment and underachievement has given way to joy and soaring confidence.
"We feel like we're in ecstasy," Sophie Schmidt exclusively told FIFA.com. The 24-year-old midfielder’s eyes sparkle as she speaks. "It may sound a bit odd, but we knew we were going to beat Great Britain and reach the semi-finals. It's exactly this belief in ourselves which marks us out right now."
The Canada No13 embodies the new confidence and quality in the side. Schmidt’s displays so far have been characterised by tireless running, a tangible desire to win, stunning tackling and ball winning, and calm precision in setting up attacks from a strong midfield platform. However, she knows she is just one of 11 important players in the team, successfully formed into a smooth-functioning unit by coach John Herdman.
"We're actually the same players as last year, but John and his team have made us so much stronger tactically. We feel better prepared than ever before," explained Schmidt. "In tight situations in the past, we had a tendency to panic, but now we know exactly what we have to do. We're just so much stronger as a unit now."
But that's by no means the only new success factor. "We believe in ourselves! We're playing the best teams in the world and dominating them at times. It’s also connected to the fact that we sense the coach believes in us. These are very exciting times for us," the player continued, unstinting in her praise of Herdman, who took over the coaching hotseat last September.
Ready to meet USA head on
The team spearheaded by star strikers Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi, who have seven goals between them at the tournament so far, now aim to pull off a shock upset. The Canadians face reigning champions USA in Manchester on Monday, and Schmidt knows she and her team-mates have a mountain to climb.
"The USA will come out fighting, as they always do against us. They always turn in their best performances against us. They also have some of the world's quickest players, and some of the most experienced. We have to be ready for that."
Schmidt, fluent in the German language of her forefathers and whose biggest career goal is to play for a German club at some point, insists she is not afraid of the neighbouring nation’s star names. "We'll find a way of matching them. We'll simply carry on where we left off in our last two matches, which worked out very well for us. We'll try and impose our style of play on them."
Better placed than ever
There is no denying the conviction in Schmidt's voice. "If we can beat them it would be unbelievable, but our time has come, more than ever before. We couldn't be better-placed to pull it off." Nevertheless, Schmidt knows only too well that a marquee victory over the nation occupying top spot in the FIFA Women's World Ranking would be significant in more ways than one.
"Obviously, our fans want to see us succeed. They were understandably disappointed after the last World Cup, but that's changing as of now. It's wonderful to see the way they support us and cheer us on. The more successful we are here, the greater the support and passion in three years from now."
That is when the FIFA Women's World Cup takes place in Canada. And with a medal hanging from their necks, Schmidt and company would look to the future with an even greater feeling of ecstasy.