Marie-Eve Nault debuted for the Canadian women’s team over a decade ago. Since then, she’s earned 68 caps, appeared in two FIFA Women’s World Cups (2011 and 2015) and won bronze at the 2012 Olympics.
The defender from Trois-Rivières, Que., has also carved out an impressive professional career overseas. She’s played important minutes for KIF Örebro since 2013 and is now getting a taste of UEFA Women’s Champions League action. This week, her Swedish side is readying for the second leg of the Round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain. Their first meeting finished 1-1.
Nault, 33, talked to Sportsnet about her time in Sweden and what it’s like taking part in the Champions League…
You’ve played for Örebro since 2013. How has the team grown in that time?
In my first year, a couple new players had also joined the team, so it was more about learning to play together and getting used to our tactics. We had a really good first half of the season, being a surprise to most people, but unfortunately, we were not able to keep up and ended up finishing sixth. We learned a lot from that and most of the players came back the following year and we were able to add some depth to our team and everything came together.
That was definitely one of the best teams I have ever played with. We clicked on and off the field and worked hard for each other and followed our tactics. It paid off, as we were able to qualify for Champions League by finishing second, which was the club’s best ever finish and first time in history qualifying for Champions League.
This year, it has been full of ups and downs with the team losing important core players, either through injury or not re-signing for the club. But we know our strengths, we are very organized tactically, and a lot of players have stepped up into bigger roles. We had a strong end of the season, which gave us confidence and momentum in our Champion’s League matches.
It wasn’t an easy journey qualifying for the Champions League. Has the tournament lived up to your expectations so far?
It definitely wasn’t easy, as in the Damallsvenskan [Swedish first division] there are no ”easy” teams. On any given day, any team can beat any other team despite their ranking. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect going into Champions League. I think we had a very good draw in the Round of 32 in facing PAOK. I really enjoy the opportunity to play against teams from other leagues to experience the different playing styles and levels.
Obviously, this round is a lot harder being drawn with PSG but again, to be able to play against one of the best club teams in the world is an experience in itself. In the first leg in Örebro, we were also able to break a crowd record in our stadium by having close to 6,000 people at the game, which was really cool to share that experience with them.
As a defender, how do you approach matches versus a team such as PSG, known for their prolific goal scoring?
To be honest, I approach it like any other game. If I let myself over think about who I am playing against, I will be beat before stepping onto the field. Of course, I will look at some clips to see if they do anything special that I need to be ready for and general tendencies of the team and players. I focus on being extremely concentrated, because their runs are smarter and more dynamic, so I am sure to have my head on a swivel and be on my toes at all times. When you play against a team like PSG, you can’t do everything on you own. We know that we have to be synched and organized, so I try to be a vocal leader as much as I can especially playing as a centre-back.
What’s it like facing fellow Canadian Josée Bélanger, who also plays in Sweden? Is it easy to turn off that switch when you’re on pitch and see her as an opponent rather than a friend?
It’s fun; I like it! But, we are professionals. So, as soon as I step on the field, she becomes the enemy. I am not going to ”whack” at her ankles or do anything stupid, but I also won’t make it easy for her to get the ball or score. And then we are good friends, so we are able to joke about the game before and after no matter the result.
You’ve taken a leadership role with Örebro. How would you describe your style when you wear the captain’s armband?
I have had the honour to wear the captain’s armband a couple times in Swedish Cup and in Örebro Cup since our captain did not play these games. My style doesn’t change, as every game, I will play to the best of my ability to help the team win. I lead by example, whether I have the captain’s armband or not.
What’s the biggest difference between playing professionally in Europe versus in North America?
I think one of the biggest differences is that the game in Europe is more tactical rather than based on transitions. I find the Swedish league very physical and one of my favourite things, especially being a defender, is the crowd watching the game seems to understand much better what a “good play” is both defensively and offensively, so we get big applauses for great defensive work as well, not only goal chances or opportunities.
Off the field, living and playing in a country where soccer is the culture, the main sport, is a much different experience, where the majority of people, whether they play or not, enjoys the game.
What’s next for you on the national team front?
I will have a break after the PSG game and go back home to recharge mentally and physically and catch up with my family and friends. I am looking to hopefully join back up with the team in December. I am still healthy and the passion for the game is still in me, so my motivation is as high as ever! With the unforgettable World Cup experience this past summer, I would love to wear the Canadian jersey again!
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