• Canada 2 (Fleming 48’, Prince 79’), New Zealand 0
• Canada books spot in Round of 16 with game to spare
• Reds now 2-0-0 in Group E action from France
Canada keeps chugging away at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
The Canadian team secured its place in the knockout round of the tournament after earning a 2-0 win over New Zealand at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble on Saturday.
Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince provided the goals for Canada, who has won two games to start a World Cup for the first time in team history. Prince also tallied an assist on Fleming’s opening goal.
Canada is tied with the Netherlands (both on six points) for first place in Group E, although the Dutch hold the tiebreaker because they’ve scored more goals. The Dutch beat Cameroon 3-1 in Valenciennes earlier in the day to also move on to the next round. Canada’s final group-stage game is June 20 against the Netherlands in Reims, a match that will decide who wins the group.
The Canadians have suffered just one loss in their last 16 games, and remain unbeaten in 2019 – seven wins in 10 matches, with just one goal against.
For Canada, it’s now two shutout wins from two matches in France, and a spot in the Round of 16 secured with a game to spare. However, Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller thinks his team can still hit another level at this competition.
“Our expectations are so super high. I’m very happy [about] the performance, I’m very happy for the win. But I know this team has more. It’s like if you’re hungry, you’re eating a little bit, but you’re still a little bit hungry. I know this team can do so much more,” Heiner-Moller said in the post-match press conference.
Wins against Cameroon and New Zealand are fine, but tougher challenges are ahead for Canada, namely the Netherlands, who are the reigning European champions. After the Canadians struggled to break down two ultra-defensive sides, it’ll be interesting to see if they can open things up a bit more in the attacking end against the Dutch. One also suspects the Netherlands will ask far tougher questions of a Canadian defence that has yet to a concede a goal at this World Cup.
“I think the Netherlands will be a tough [opponent]… It might be a little step up, but we look at the opponents and see where can we hurt them and what do we need to do to shut them down. But most of all we look at ourselves. We’ve continued growing in the tournament, and we’ll have a great game. We’re looking forward to playing Holland,” Heiner-Moller said.
Canada is fifth in the current FIFA world rankings, 14 spots ahead of New Zealand. Nicknamed the Football Ferns, New Zealand was coming off a stoppage-time loss to the Netherlands, and has yet to record a single World Cup victory. Its record in five tournament appearances now stands at 0-11-3.
Heiner-Moller made one lineup change, with Jayde Riviere replacing fullback Allysha Chapman. Riviere, an 18-year-old native of Markham, Ont., was making only her seventh appearance and second start for Canada. With Riviere coming in, Ashley Lawrence shifted from the right over to the left side of defence.
Heiner-Moller lauded Riviere for putting in an “awesome performance” in her World Cup debut.
“That was impressive, eh? How old is she? 18. That was quite a debut in a World Cup. … She has a bright future ahead of her,” Heiner-Moller offered.
After about 15 minutes, Heiner-Moller switched from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 formation, dropping veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt into defence, and pushing Riviere and Lawrence further up the field.
“We think we have the players to play on different ways and different structures, and we’ve been working very hard to make this work. Today, we definitely reached another level on the way we can approach and get around some of the defensive [opponents],” Heiner-Moller explained.
The Canadians dictated the pace of the game in the first half, enjoying 72 per cent possession and forcing New Zealand to chase shadows. The Reds outshot the Ferns 11-1 through the opening 45 minutes, but managed just two shots on target. Their best scoring chance came off a corner kick when captain Christine Sinclair’s header hit the crossbar, and Kadeisha Buchanan’s headed rebound attempt was cleared off the goal-line.
Canada finally opened up New Zealand’s resolute defence shortly after the re-start. Prince latched on to a ball played over the top by Janine Beckie, scampered down the left side and then pulled the ball back into the middle of the box for Fleming. The Canadian midfielder showed great composure in hitting her short first time to send the ball into the far corner. It was her ninth goal in 68 appearances for her country, and first at a World Cup.
“[Prince’s] pass placed on right on my foot. I was just in a good spot, but some really food build-up play from us,” said Fleming, who was named player of the match.
The Reds nearly doubled their advantage moments later when Sinclair side-footed her shot over the crossbar after receiving a great pullback pass from Beckie. Prince forced a fabulous one-handed save from New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler when she connected on flicked header off a pinpoint cross into the box from Sinclair.
Prince wouldn’t be denied, though. Late in the game Lawrence played a cross to the back post for Sinclair, but the Canadian captain’s header hit the post. Nichelle was in the right place at the right time to toe-poke home the rebound and put the final result beyond doubt. It was her 11th goal in 53 international games.
Sinclair remains on 181 goals for Canada, just three away from tying retired U.S. star Abby Wambach as the all-time leading scorer in the history of international women’s soccer.
“She could have had a few goals today. She worked hard for 90 minutes for this team,” Heiner-Moller said.
NOTES: Canada has suffered just one loss to New Zealand in 12 meetings (7-1-4), the lone defeat coming 32 years ago. These teams played to a 0-0 draw in Edmonton during the group stage of the 2015 World Cup…. Central defender Shelina Zadorsky earned her 50th start for Canada on Saturday… Scottish manager Tom Sermanni is in charge of New Zealand, having previously served as an assistant coach for Canada at the last World Cup.