REIMS, France — Canada goes into its final group game against the Netherlands on Thursday at the Women’s World Cup knowing it is already assured of a berth in the knockout stage whatever the result.
But coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller says he and his team are still hungry. “We want more,” he said.
It’s a measure of this Canadian team that it is not just happy to have survived the first round — something it has only done twice in its six previous visits to the tournament.
The fifth-ranked Canadian women look to go deep in the event, leaving countries in their wake.
“Everyone is in it to win it,” said defender Kadeisha Buchanan.
Having dispatched No. 46 Cameroon and No. 19 New Zealand, Canada and the eighth-ranked Dutch are tied on six points with the same goal difference. But the Dutch have scored one more goal, meaning they have the tiebreaker edge — so Canada will have to win at Stade Auguste-Delaune to secure top spot in Group E.
Given the proximity to the Netherlands, the stadium should have a distinctly orange look Thursday evening.
The Group E winner heads to Rennes to face the Group D runner-up — No. 7 Japan. The Group E runner-up makes the short trip to Paris to meet the second-place team in Group F — either the top-ranked U.S. or No. 9 Sweden, who meet Thursday.
“Doing math is so dangerous,” said Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman referencing the permutations. “We just want to win and play good football.”
The European champion Dutch arrived at the tournament with high expectations. But they needed a stoppage-time goal from a substitute to defeat New Zealand 1-0 and were tied 1-1 at the half with Cameroon before pulling ahead for a 3-1 win.
A large Dutch media contingent chipped away at Wiegman at the Netherlands’ news conference Wednesday, quizzing her about possible changes and the need for improvement.
“We are very critical, of course, ourselves as well with each other, which is a good thing,” Wiegman said patiently through an interpreter. ”But we should be happy with what we’ve shown so far. We have six points and we’ve made it to the next round.
“Of course there are details that can be improved but we can be proud of ourselves.”
Asked what she felt about the criticism, Dutch midfielder Sherida Spitse replied: “To be honest, I couldn’t care less.”
Asked by a Dutch reporter if the Canadian media was giving her team a similar hard time, Buchanan replied: “I can honestly say I don’t know.”
Canada has not lost to the Netherlands in 12 career meetings (9-0-3). The Canadians won 2-1 the last time they met — 2-1 in Eindhoven in April 2016 — and the teams tied 1-1 at the 2015 World Cup in Montreal.
But since then the Dutch won the European title in 2017, winning all six games along on the way. They needed a playoff to qualify for the World Cup, finishing runner-up to Norway — despite losing just one of seven matches — before dispatching Denmark and Switzerland to grab the last European berth in November.
The Dutch stumbled at the 12-team Algarve Cup earlier this year, losing to Spain and Poland before edging China in a penalty shootout to avoid finishing last. But they have won five straight since, outscoring their opposition 16-1.
With Lieke Martens (Barcelona), Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal) and Shanice van de Sanden (Lyon) up front, the Dutch boast a potent strike force.
The 22-year-old Miedema scored twice in the win over Cameroon to take her tally to 60 and become her country’s all-time leading scorer. Martens was named Euro 2017 player of the tournament, 2016-17 UEFA Women’s Player of the Year and 2017 Best FIFA Women’s Player.
“Their offence is definitely up there … They’ve got some nice patterns going on,” said Heiner-Moller. “We’ll get some challenges for sure.”
Wiegman took Best FIFA Women’s Coach Award honours in 2017.
Canada’s Christine Sinclair, meanwhile, continues her chase of Abby Wambach’s world record total of 184 goals. The 36-year-old Sinclair, who has 284 caps for Canada, is at 181 and counting.
The Canadian women are on a run of their own. They are unbeaten in 2019 (7-0-3) with nine shutouts, outscoring their opposition 11-1, and have not given up a goal in 423 minutes (since a 2-1 win over Nigeria on April 8).
They have played attractive football their first two games. All that has been lacking is slightly more clinical finishing. The Dutch will provide a more demanding test of just how far Canada has come.
Canada’s captain believes her team is ready for all-comers.
“I’ve been waiting my entire career in a way for this pressure and this expectation,” Sinclair said prior to the tournament. “To be a top-five team in the world is a remarkable achievement for Canada and this group of players. We’re right there. You see our results this year. Even the past two years …. we’re right there.
“Beating England in England earlier this year really gave us some confidence that we can literally beat anyone. Now it’s just a matter of doing it in a big tournament, where OK you beat Germany, then next game you have to beat France and the game after that you have to beat the U.S. It’s a matter of us putting it together when it matters most.”
Canada made it to the quarterfinals four years ago, losing 2-1 to England. In 2003, it posted its best-ever finish when it placed fourth in the first of Sinclair’s five tournaments.
The Dutch, in their first World Cup appearance four years ago, advanced as one of the best third-placed teams before losing to Japan in the round of 16.