Canada held to stalemate by Kiwis at World Cup

Manager John Herdman expected a win for Canada over New Zealand at the Women's World Cup, but James Sharman explains what exactly went wrong for the Reds in a scoreless draw.

EDMONTON—Amber Hearn has scored many goals on Canadian soil. The New Zealand striker was a W-League all-star when she played for the Ottawa Fury in 2009. She scored 13 times that season for the Fury.

But she’d likely trade all those goals she scored in the nation’s capital just to get another chance at Thursday night’s missed penalty against Canada at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. After fullback Alyssha Chapman was called for bringing down New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson in the penalty area, Hearn stepped to the spot with the chance to give the Kiwis a shock 1-0 lead at the 32-minute mark.

Her shot crashed off the crossbar. And the majority of the 35,544 fans at Commonwealth Stadium, who had earlier braved a 30-minute severe-weather delay, could exhale.

As well, Hearn had an earlier chance, in the 10th minute, and her header forced Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod to make a fingertip save.

The 0-0 final score was enough to give Canada top spot in Group A—a point ahead of the Dutch and the Chinese. Canada will face the Netherlands June 15 in Montreal; if the home team wins, it will take Group A. If it draws, it will qualify for the knockout stages, but will need to sweat out the result of the China-New Zealand match to see if it will hold top spot in the group—and with it the easier path towards the later rounds. And, if the Canadians lose, they can still qualify for the knockout stages—but will need other results to go its way.

“Pressure. As professional as I am, the pressure definitely got to me,” Hearn said after the match. “I just thought ‘top corner,’ and then… post.”

Chapman, whose foul allowed Hearn to go to the spot, wasn’t happy with the call.

“I think karma rang the crossbar,” she said. “I think it was a soft call, I think she went down pretty easy but, New Zealand, that was the only way they were going to beat us — getting calls around the box or in the box.”

McLeod said that, in her opinion, referee Bibiana Steinhaus is one of the best—if not the best—in the world. So she didn’t question the call.

“I heard it go off the post, off the woodwork, as I dove the wrong way,” McLeod said of the penalty. “The woodwork has been on my side this year.”

The game kicked off in a downpour, with the city in the midst of a severe thunderstorm watch from Environment Canada. At the 3:47 mark, a thunderclap echoed from above, and Steinhaus blew her whistle and waved both teams toward their dressing rooms. Fans were told that, because of severe weather in the area, they should leave their seats and take shelter in the stadium concourse.

Luckily the storm had plenty of strength but not a lot of stamina. Within 15 minutes the sun was shining, and the game restarted 30 minutes after the delay was initiated, the minimum allowed by FIFA regulations for lightning in the area.

The Kiwis, as Canadian national-team coach John Herdman had expected, pressed in two active lines of three players each. They slid on the wet turf with abandon. They looked like a group of players possessed to prove a point to their former coach; Herdman left the New Zealand program to take the Canada job after the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

Canada, though, was able to hit the Kiwis on the break; in the 23rd minute, Ashley Lawrence threaded a pass through the New Zealand back line that sent striker Christine Sinclair in on goal. But the hero of the 1-0 win over China couldn’t get the ball past Kiwi keeper Erin Nayler, who read the play early and charged off the line to take away the shooting angle.

Just before the halftime whistle, Canadian forward Melissa Tancredi nodded the ball into the net after Jonelle Filigno had flicked on Sophie Schmidt’s free kick. But the linesman had correctly flagged Tancredi for being in an offside position when Filigno got her head on the ball.

Right after the second half kicked off, a poor New Zealand clearing effort fell to Sinclair, and her volley forced Nayler into another spectacular save, palming the ball off the bar. With a little less than 20 minutes to go Schmidt’s long, lofted free kick was touched over the goal by the New Zealand keeper. Tancredi’s 76th minute effort forced Nayler into a slide so it could be blocked. As the game crept to its conclusion, Sinclair and Tancredi got in each other’s way—and the result was scuffed a ball in the middle of the penalty area, spoiling a wonderful set-up from fullback Josee Belanger.

Canada can feel unlucky about the chances missed. The media will no doubt fret about a scoreless effort against what had been pinpointed as the softest touch in the group stage. But, let’s be clear—it could have been much, much worse.

Had Hearn’s shot been placed a few inches lower, we might be talking about a group where all four teams are tied and even on goal difference. But, even with the 0-0 draw, Group A is starting to feel like the Group of Death. Going into the final group-stage matches, all four teams are alive. But Canada can finish no worse than third in the group, even if it loses to the Dutch.

“We’re still in the driving seat to finish at the top of the group, and that’s our goal,” Herdman said. “That means that going into the Netherlands, we’ve got to stay in fifth gear. It would have been nice if we would have been able to drop down to fourth in that game. But Canada always seems to do it the hard way.

“So we’re rolling into this game with the mindset that we want to finish top of the group. A point might do that for us. Three points will guarantee it. It would have been nice to be sitting here with six (points) and thinking about your recovery strategies for some of those players who have done back-to-back 90s, now.”

And Herdman said that while the lack of scoring is frustrating, he pointed out that Canada had 60 percent possession against New Zealand, and has allowed only three shots on target over the first two games.

Before the rains came, China beat the Netherlands 1-0 thanks to a second-half stoppage time goal from Lisi Wang. Truthfully, the Chinese were full value to have won by a margin of three or four. But chance after chance was put high or wide, and Wang’s winner came at a point where you had to wonder if China had wasted the game.

Really, Group A is the one you want to use to teach young strikers how not to finish. The chances created have been many, but the goals have been very few and far between.

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