Team Canada head coach Ian Bridge could hardly contain himself following Thursday’s last-gasp penalty win over slippery South American outfit Brazil at the penultimate stage of the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship. "This is one of the greatest nights of football I have ever experienced," gushed a veteran of Canada’s Mexico ’86 FIFA World Cup squad – the only team from the Great White North ever to have appeared at the finals. "I would even go so far as to call this evening the greatest night."
It took a while for Bridge and his elated young lasses to meet with members of the press following their gut-wrenching 3:4 shootout win after 120 minutes of torrid football that ended tangled at one apiece. The red-clad, final-bound hosts were too busy embracing, signing autographs, charging around the pitch of Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium draped in the familiar red and white of their nation’s standard, and generally soaking in perhaps the most inspiring moment women’s youth football has ever known.
Nearly 40,000 supporters piled into the stadium in Alberta’s capital city to support the hosts as they took on a tough, battle-tested Brazil in the second semi-final clash of the day. The winner of the match would know their opponent in either the final or the third-place match in three days’ time.
Heavy favourites the United States had run out big 4:1 winners earlier in the day after going a goal to the bad early against ambitious Germany. As the crowd was still filtering in for the hometown girls, the US dominated the remainder of the match and head coach Tracey Leone remarked, "This is the first time we’ve played in this stadium and it can be overwhelming – it is a huge environment."
It must have been a noticeable difference indeed from the quaint, intimate, picturesque environs of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium. With a cozy capacity of 6000 and B.C.’s comparatively tropical climate, the U.S. surely looked to be stunned by the change as it took them the lion’s share of the first half to find their usual rhythm, surrendering a shock opening goal to prolific Linda Bresonik.
And on this great night of football even FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was in attendance to add to the chorus of praise currently raining down on the players, fans and organizers that have gone about making the inaugural competition such a wild success for the still burgeoning women’s game.
"It is outstanding," poured forth FIFA’s recently re-elected executive, speaking openly to members of the press. "I don’t think we could have gathered a crowd of 40,000 for an under 19 football match in any other country in the world…it has been a tremendous success for football."
With full page press coverage all over the sometime over-looked North American host nation, an avalanche of goals, attacking football, nascent stars the likes hometown hero and tournament top scorer Christine Sinclair, and a pending final pitting the pre-tournament favourites the United States against the high-flying hosts in an all- CONCACAF showdown, there is no question in anyone’s mind about whether or not the inaugural competition has jibed with FIFA’s trade mark tagline, "for the good of the game."