REIMS, France — Canada is on the move at the Women’s World Cup.
After dispatching 19th-ranked New Zealand, fifth-ranked Canada left Grenoble and headed north for Reims on Sunday to prepare for a Group E showdown with the eighth-ranked Netherlands. With both teams already qualified for the round-of-16, Thursday’s match at the Stade Auguste-Delaune will determine who awaits in the knockout round.
Finishing first in the group sets up a round-of-16 matchup with the Group D runner-up — either No. 3 England or No. 7 Japan, who face off Wednesday. Placing second means a date with the Group F runner-up, either the top-ranked U.S. or No. 9 Sweden, who also meet Thursday to decide the group winner.
While the Canadian offence has yet to hit high gear, Kenneth Heiner-Moller’s team is headed in the right direction.
Canada is through to the knockout phase for the third time in seven World Cups — and for the first time in a tournament outside North America (they also advanced in the U.S. in 2003 and on home soil in 2015).
Saturday’s 2-0 win over No. 19 New Zealand marked Canada’s first two-goal performance at the World Cup since a 2-2 draw with Australia in 2007. It’s also the first time Canada has opened the tournament with two straight wins and defeated a confederation champion (New Zealand rules the modest Oceania soccer kingdom).
Canada’s rock-steady defence has not conceded a World Cup goal in 256 minutes, with England’s Lucy Bronze scoring the last in the 2015 quarterfinals.
“Anybody that watched us tonight sees a confident team and someone who hasn’t given up a goal in the tournament, which is very important, and we don’t intend to,” forward Janine Beckie said after the New Zealand win.
The Canadians are now unbeaten in 10 games (7-0-3) in 2019, one off the team record. The current run includes nine shutouts with the Canadians outscoring the opposition 11-1.
Canada also extended its shutout streak in all play to 423 minutes, dating back to a 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria on April 8.
“We pride ourselves on our defending as a team. it’s what we’re known for, being hard to play against,” said captain Christine Sinclair, who has been asked to defend more under Heiner-Moller.
Canada has not lost since a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the U.S. in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship last October. Its confidence is growing.
“I think there’s five or six teams that can win the World Cup and we’re one of them,” Heiner-Moller said on the eve of the tournament. “But we can also lose to some of the other teams.”
Added Sinclair: “We know on any given day we can beat anyone. Obviously in a tournament it’s about doing that consistently, especially once you get to the knockout rounds. But we’re ready.”
Canada has never lost to the Dutch in 12 meetings (9-0-3). They tied 1-1 at the tournament four years ago in Montreal with the Dutch scoring an 87th-minute equalizer.
Canada won 2-1 last time out in an April 2016 friendly in Eindhoven.
Since then, however, the Dutch went unbeaten in winning the 2017 European championship. They grabbed the last European World Cup berth by defeating Switzerland and Denmark in playoffs, both on 4-1 aggregate
The Dutch had to go the playoff route after finishing second (6-1-1) in the qualifying group behind Norway (7-1-0) — losing a decisive game 2-1 to Norway in Oslo —despite outscoring the opposition 22-2 in the eight games.
Canada and the Netherlands are tied on points and goal difference going into the Group E decider. The Dutch have scored one more goal.
In the first two games, Canada had 38 shot attempts to its opponents’ seven. Eleven of those were blocked and 17 off target with Canada holding a 10-1 edge in shots on target.
Canada had an 18-5 edge in corners and 992-246 edge in passes completed.
The Canadians had 65 percent ball possession against Cameroon and 70 per cent against New Zealand.
“It goes to show the improvements we’ve made and how dominant we can be,” said Sinclair. “Having teams sit back, try to absorb pressure, catch us on the break, I mean when I first joined the national team, that’s how we played. And now we’re dominating teams, not giving up shots.
“It’s crazy and it’s amazing to be part of this group.”
The Dutch numbers are similar — 69 percent possession against the Kiwis and 58 per cent against Cameroon. They have had 27 attempts on goal, with seven on target, 11 off target and nine blocked. They have completed 938 passes over the two matches.
Both teams have prolific strikers. Canada has the 36-year-old Sinclair, four goals from breaking Abby Wambach’s world record of 184. Sinclair could have had a hat trick against he Football Ferns, hitting the woodwork twice and sending a redirect over the bar.
The Netherlands have 22-year-old Vivianne Miedema, who became her country’s all-time leading scorer Saturday when the Arsenal sniper scored her second goal of the game — and the 60th of her career — in a 3-1 win over Cameroon.
Miedema has her eye on 100 goals.
“I have no idea where this will end … I’m hoping to add a lot of goals,” Miedema, speaking through an interpreter, told the post-game news conference.
Joining the likes of Christine Sinclair on the scoring chart, ”would be amazing,” she added.
Both sides believe the best is yet to come.
“I know this team’s got more,” said Heimer-Moller.
“We can still play better,” echoed Miedema.
“I think we can beat Canada,” said Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman, named Best FIFA Women’s Coach in 2017. “We need to be really good defensively, not give away any opportunities or openings.”