In future decades this slightly nervy win watched by a 54,000 strong crowd a long goal kick from the Pacific may well be regarded as a transformative moment in the development of women’s football in England.
Doing what their male counterparts have failed to manage since 1990, Mark Sampson’s Lionesses reached the semi-finals of a World Cup. It is the furthest an English female team has gone in such a tournament and they will be hoping to make additional history in Wednesday’s semi-final against Japan, the holders, in Edmonton.
After early goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze propelled England into a two-goal lead, a ghastly goalkeeping error on Karen Bardsley’s part allowed Christine Sinclair to pull Canada back into the match. As the tension rose things became increasingly exciting but the hosts were destined for crushing disappointment in front of a fiercely partisan crowd.
A feisty off-pitch preamble had seen Sampson call for protection from the referee against a side he termed the tournament’s “most aggressive”. By way of reply John Herdman, Canada’s coach, revealed he had instructed his players to “go out there and give England hell”. This, he added, would entail being as “physical” as possible and putting “bodies on the line.”
Perhaps appropriately it all seemed a tiny bit like a Tyne-Wear derby. Which, in a sense it was. While Herdman, and Englishman from Consett in County Durham, is a fanatical Newcastle United fan three key components in Sampson’s starting X1 – Steph Houghton, Bronze and Jill Scott – are similarly enthusiastic Sunderland supporters.
Not that a tie possessing the potential to prove a watershed in the history of women’s football in the winning country really needed any extra edge or spice.
Anxious not to offer Herdman one iota of pre match information Sampson was horrified to learn that Jordan Nobbs, an influential, and aggressive, midfielder had, on Saturday morning, tweeted the news that a hamstring injury had ended her tournament. If that post was easy enough to delete, removing Canada from the tournament would prove a different matter.
There is much talk about Sinclair, very much the talisman of this Canadian side, having lost half a yard of pace. That may be so but, accelerating down the right she proved far too fast for the Lionesses’s before crossing for Melissa Tancredi. Dubbed “the Tank” by Herdman, Tancredi stepped inside Houghton, before directing a highly inviting shooting opening over the bar.
It was to prove an extremely costly miss. Shortly afterwards Taylor took advantage of an awful mistake by Lauren Sesselman in the home central defence to advance and shoot unerringly beyond Erin McLeod. It was a highly-polished finish from a pacey, powerful, striker who underwent knee surgery only nine weeks ago and, so far, has been used sparingly by Sampson.
Having scored a spectacular winner in the round of 16 against Norway in Ottawa last Monday Bronze was already a central figure for the Lionesses but the right back returned to the limelight by swiftly putting England two up. Connecting with Fara Williams’s long free-kick, Bronze dodged her marker to send a header looping into the back of the net via the underside of the bar.
With the crowd stunned into silence and a shocked Herdman shaking his head and smiling wryly to himself on the bench, McLeod gathered her team-mates into a huddle and gave them a stern talking to.
Although Sesselman continued to endure a nightmare, her colleagues did up their game and Tancredi should have done better than head the influential Sophie Schmidt’s free-kick over the bar with England’s defence bisected.
At the other end Katie Chapman’s header looped back off the bar with McLeod beaten but, although Karen Bardsley still had to make a proper save odd flashes of skill from the dangerous Josee Belanger suggested that the contest might not be quite over.
With the defensively assured Kadeisha Buchanan starting to play it out smoothly from the back in a manner which made it hard to credit she is only 19-years-old there was a sense that half time could not arrive soon enough for Sampson. Before it did though his side conceded a goal.
Poor Bardsley was left looking mortified after a shocking error in which she inexplicably spilled a routine cross from the impressive Ashley Lawrence. Sinclair needed no invitation to pounce and register only her second goal of Canada 2015 by stabbing the rebound home. The roar rising from BC Place was so loud it would be no surprise if it was heard across the border with the United States.
Karen Carney might have subdued the hosts a little at the outset of the second half but her shot whizzed fractionally over the bar. Almost immediately the game was halted as Bardsley received treatment for a black eye which was swelling fast and appeared to be affecting her vision. The goalkeeper had to be replaced by the World Cup debutant Siobhan Chamberlain.
Once play restarted, McLeod performed wonders to repel Taylor’s shot but only Tancredi’s hesitancy in front of goal came between her and an equaliser before Sinclair curled a free-kick marginally too high.
England were beginning to fade in the final frenzied minutes, and an element of anxiety was creeping into their play. The fear of losing the prize within touching distance must have been immense but, with Houghton standing strong, they somehow held it together when it mattered.
England (4-2-3-1); Bardsley (Chamberlain 51), Bronze, Houghton, Bassett, Rafferty; Moore, Wiliams (sub White 78), J Scott, Chapman, Carney (sub Stoney 90), Taylor
Canada (4-3-3); McLeod, Matheson (sub Wilkinson 63), Buchanan, Sesselman, Chapman; Lawrence, D Scott (sub Kyle 77), Schmidt, Tancredi (sub Leon 71), Belanger, Sinclair
Referee: C Umpierrez (Uruguay)
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