Canada seek to turn over a new leaf against Nigeria
No sooner had the final whistle been blown in the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016 Group B opener between Spain and Canada than the Canadian players and coaching staff conspicuously formed a circle, whereupon coach Danny Worthington proceeded to rally his troops.
The 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Spaniards could have been a serious blow to the Canucks' morale, but Worthington was able to find the right words to lift his players and ensure that they will take to the pitch in their next match, against Nigeria, with their heads held high.
The effectiveness of the coach's impromptu team talk is attested to by the buoyant tone struck by Bianca St Georges when speaking to FIFA.com after that heavy loss: "We're working to forge an identity and one feature of that identity is all about togetherness and communication. We were disappointed after the match – these sorts of defeats are never easy to swallow – but we pulled together and have taken lessons away from it. We're going to take each game as it comes."
The meeting with Nigeria at Port Moresby's Bava Park could prove make or break for both sides, as the Africans got their campaign underway in a similar fashion, succumbing to a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Japan. St Georges, who previously represented her country at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014, is well aware of the importance of this encounter and was adamant that she and her team-mates are ready for the task ahead.
"We've got a game plan for every match," said the West Virginia University student. "Nigeria are a completely different proposition to Spain and we'll have to approach it differently, although we don't expect this game to be tougher than the first one. We learnt a lot in the Spain match and we're going to approach the next one with a different mindset," she went on, adding that, "We're going to work even harder and we won't give up."
Another challenge Just as St Georges was concluding her interview, Canada coach Worthington appeared on the scene and echoed his captain's thoughts: "Like she said, this result doesn't reflect what we're capable of. The post-match huddle was about identifying the lessons to learn from the defeat and then getting ourselves focused on the next game, against Nigeria.
"Spain taught us an important lesson," he continued. "Now we've got to bounce back against Nigeria. That's what I told the players. You'll see a different performance against Nigeria – the girls are going to come out stronger than ever."
The tactician stressed that his team are "full of motivation" ahead of their next assignment. "We've got to be well prepared and show that we've learned from our mistakes. We'll be better organised and we've got to give a better account of ourselves."
Worthington and his charges have an uphill struggle ahead of them following their poor start, but the coach is not only thinking about the Nigeria match or indeed this tournament. He has an eye on the bigger picture, believing that Papua New Guinea 2016 can be part proving ground, part finishing school, in helping a generation of players to take a step up and reach the highest level in the future.
"Four of the starters against Spain featured at Jordan 2016. We want to go as far as possible, but what's even more important is to nurture these young players so that they go on to be part of the senior Canada set-up by 2020," he said.
With his passion and eloquence, there is no doubt that Worthington's words will spur his players on again on Wednesday. This time, however, he will be hoping that the mood is somewhat more celebratory when he talks to his team in their post-game huddle.