By RON FANFAIR
Canada faces a major hurdle in its opening match in next year’s women’s soccer World Cup in Berlin’s Olympic stadium.
The national side’s opponent is two-time champions and host country Germany which Canada has never beaten in 11 meetings.
In their last fixture three months ago in Dresden, the Germans shut out the Canadians 5-0 in the friendly international. Karina LeBlanc was the goalkeeper in that match.
“That first game is definitely going to be tough,” admitted LeBlanc, who was born in Canada to a Dominican father and a Jamaican mother. “The Germans were exceptional when we played them this year. As a team, we were not exactly in top shape, but I think what we saw from that meeting is that they are one of the best teams in the world, if not the best.
“Playing at home, they are going to have a 12th man (their fans) and a lot of things going for them. For us, the good thing is that we could look at that game and see where we were because we were in our worst form.”
Canada’s other opponents in Group “A” are France and Nigeria. Canada has won three of its six meetings with the French while losing once and drawing the other two while the national team and Nigeria played to a draw in their only clash.
“With France, we have had some success against them,” added LeBlanc. “Obviously they are a team that has come up in the world. Moving forward, it’s a tough group. We haven’t played Nigeria lately, but I know they are the top team in Africa right now and they have been a part of every single World Cup, so you know they have the experience. For us right now, what we need to do in the next couple of months is to make ourselves stronger individually and as a team and go to the World Cup with confidence because the first game is going to be tough and we will be able to see exactly where we are.”
Canada has reeled off six straight wins, including capturing the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) title in Mexico last month since losing to the Germans.
The national side, which is making its fifth straight World Cup appearance, closes out the year in Brazil in a four-nation tournament involving the host country, The Netherlands and Mexico in Sao Paulo from December 9-19.
LeBlanc, who has represented this country 71 times, is set to join former mid-field player Andrea Neil who retired in 2007 as the only female Canadian participants in four World Cups.
“It’s an honour to be in such an elite group,” said LeBlanc who made her national debut as an 18-year-old against China in Montreal in the summer of 1998. “But for me personally, I just want to be playing the best soccer of my career. I have a lot of experience going forward into the World Cup, but if I am not in tip-top shape, it means nothing…This is a team sport and whatever I can bring to the table helps.”
The Americans, which were the last team to qualify for the World Cup after defeating Italy 2-0 on aggregate in a home-and-away series, is in Group “C” with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Colombia and Sweden while Group “B” comprises Japan, New Zealand, Mexico and England.
Group “D” is made up of Brazil, Australia, Norway and Equatorial Guinea.
The Canadian Soccer Association, meanwhile, has said it will bid for the 2015 women’s World Cup. The country with the winning bid also earns the right to host the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in 2014.
“We are proud that the largest participation sport in this country for girls and women is soccer,” said Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association. “Hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 provides exceptional opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of female soccer players in Canada to be inspired by the world’s best players and to support the national team as they represent their country on the international stage on home soil.”
The bidding closes in mid-February. Canada hosted the women’s Under-19 World Cup eight years ago.