As the Canucks squad representing the host nation at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ have been reminding everyone since the tournament started, they are one big happy family, with coach John Herdman playing the role of “father”.
As it happened, the Canadians’ Round-of-16 tie against Switzerland coincided with Father’s Day, and Herdman’s players marked the occasion by giving him the perfect gift: a place in the last eight of the competition.
The English coach, who received the support in the stands of his two children and a hug from both of them at the end of the match, was the architect of his side’s narrow 1-0 win, having reshaped the team following the draw with the Netherlands in their final group match.
Reassessing his plans, Herdman brought Melissa Tancredi back into attack and deployed Desiree Scott in a midfield holding role, while Rhian Wilkinson was restored to right-back after shaking off her injury problems. Meanwhile, Josee Belanger returned to her favoured position up front alongside Tancredi and Christine Sinclair, having filled in in defence since the start of the competition.
Herdman was rewarded for his enterprising tactical shake-up when Belanger latched on to Wilkinson’s first-time cross to sweep in the only goal of the game.
Speaking to FIFA.com afterwards, Wilkinson had nothing but praise for the goalscorer and her contribution in deputising at the back: “It takes a lot of courage to go and play in defence when you’re a forward. Josee did a great job in the position.
“It’s terrifying for a forward to play at the back but she did a great job,” added the full-back. “John changed the system just to keep her in the team, but played her closer to goal, where her speed came in very handy, though she was still very effective in defence.”
Belanger slotted back into an enterprising front three, where her pace, Sinclair’s positional sense and Tancredi’s power gave the Swiss rearguard plenty to think about.
“We each knew what we had to do, but being part of a front three gave us more freedom too,” said Tancredi before explaining that their role was also to act as a first line of defence. “Our job was put them under pressure and to attack as soon we regained possession. That was the plan.”
It was a plan in which Scott, sitting just in front of the defence, also played her part, rolling up her sleeves to help blunt the Swiss attack.
Explaining her brief, the industrious Scott said: “I had a defensive job to do first of all, and I had to stay close to the back line. Lara Dickenmann and Ramona Bachmann are undoubtedly their best players, and I had to strengthen the defence, keep them away from goal and make sure they saw as little as possible of the ball.”
“They’re both very good players. They’re very skilful and quick, and it made sense for us to bring in specialist defenders to negate their threat,” said the returning Wilkinson, who was replaced by Marie-Eve Nault just before the end. “The idea was to keep a close eye on them and score a goal. We knew we had to put pressure on their defence, which is why we lined up with three forwards.”
Herdman’s girls executed his plan to perfection, though Wilkinson was anxious to share the credit for the hard-fought victory with their fatherly coach: “John fights for every ball with us. He won the match with us.”
“This win is all down to him,” said Tancredi, voicing a unanimously held view in the Canada camp. “He’s put in an enormous amount of work to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be.
“This win is all down to his hard work. Today is a special day for him, with it being Father’s Day and having his two children with him. His 23 other girls wanted to make it special for him too.”