DRESDEN, Germany — Zero points, one goal, three shots on net — bleak numbers that add up to Canada’s worst-ever performance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Canada (0-3) capped a disastrous World Cup campaign by losing 1-0 to Nigeria on Tuesday in a game marked by a 12-minute power outage, a fitting farewell to a Canadian squad that had gone into Germany with huge hopes but fizzled on the world’s stage.
Now the Canadians face an uncertain future just six months out from the qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s tough, it’s tough to walk away from a World Cup and not get a point, and not get one bounce,” said veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
“We know how gutting it is, we know we don’t ever want the feeling again, but we’re just going to have to find a way to work harder and want it more, and find a way for the Olympic qualifiers.”
The tournament in Germany was to be a coming-out party for the Canadians, who arrived as CONCACAF champions with an all-time world ranking high of sixth.
But the tournament unfolded nothing like the Canadians could ever have imagined — first there was the broken nose to talismanic captain Christine Sinclair in the 2-1 loss to Germany in the opening game, then the 4-0 shellacking by France that would mark Canada’s mathematical demise.
Coach Carolina Morace said perhaps expectations were too high.
“I think we did too well for two years and maybe somebody thinks we will win the World Cup,” said the Italian, who was hired in 2009.
“But the reality is not that. Women’s soccer is improving everywhere, and this World Cup is an example of that.”
Tuesday’s loss came to a Nigerian squad ranked 21 positions lower than Canada, and with a roster than includes eight players from the team that made last year’s U-20 World Cup final.
Now, Morace, who’s been embroiled in a heated battle of tug-of-war with the Canadian Soccer Association, has to hope she can put the program back on a solid footing quickly.
The Olympic qualifying tournament is in Vancouver in February. Canada is set to host the next World Cup in 2015.
“I think everybody has to be positive and come together, this has to be the start point of the team,” Morace said.
She has a contract through the London Olympics, and said she would like to remain with the program through 2015.
“I take a responsibility of course for the team,” Morace said. “But really I think that we did a good job in these two years.”
Perpetua Nkwocha sealed Nigeria’s lone victory of the tournament in the 84th minute in front of a crowd of 13,638, pouncing on a deflection off Candace Chapman and calmly launching a shot past LeBlanc. The power had gone out in the stadium in the 72nd minute, and the goal came less than a minute after play resumed.
LeBlanc started in net for Canada in her first appearance in this World Cup. LeBlanc, who made a Canadian-record fourth World Cup appearance, said she’ll decide on her playing future following the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s mixed emotions,” Sinclair said, summing up the tournament. “Obviously the results have been disappointing and not what we had hoped for and wanted and expected. But at the same time, as a women’s football player and to look at this tournament, how well it’s been put on, the fans, the awareness, it’s been incredible to be a part of it. Obviously I would have liked to be part of it a little longer but it’s a starting point for us and we can just improve.”
The 28-year-old Sinclair, wearing a face mask to protect her broken nose — she’d argued unsuccessfully with team doctors before the game about not wearing it — had Canada’s best chances. Her best chance came in the 32nd minute when she snuck through Nigeria’s back line and beat ’keeper Precious Dede before running out of room.
But Canada was undone all tournament long by a shaky back line and struggled to play with the poise on the ball that Morace has been trying to teach.
The Canadians also couldn’t finish, with a woeful three shots on net all tournament. Their lone goal — and only real highlight — was Sinclair’s beautiful bending free kick in the opening game against Germany.
“We didn’t come here wanting to lose all three games obviously, we had high hopes of doing well and obviously something didn’t work right,” said midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. “Our coaches are going to go back and look at things and us as players are going to take some time mentally and go back and look at things as well as to what we can improve on.”
The Canadians have advanced out of the group stage just once in their five appearances, finishing fourth in 2003. But they’d managed to score at least a point in their other appearances, until Germany.
“We’ve got to do something more, and we’ll find it within,” LeBlanc said. “The girls on this team have so much character, and there’s nobody here who doesn’t want to do more than we did. We’ll leave it up to the coaching staff to figure it out. It’s just tough, I can’t even find the right words right now.”
The players said they back Morace, who centralized the team in Rome for the four months prior to the World Cup. The coach and players have said that the Italy camp wasn’t the ideal preparation but was the best solution in efforts to have the team together and to play games within a short travelling distance.
“Failure is the opportunity to start working harder and we move forward from this,” LeBlanc said. “We take it as a disappointment but you can’t look back, you have to keep moving forward, so Carolina, she’ll move forward too and we’ll do things differently.
“You can’t blame one person, she’s a great coach, and we all just have to move forward. The past is the past and we have to be mature and move forward from it and find a way.”
When Morace was hired in 2009, she presented a 46-page paper to the CSA that outlined her vision for the program. It included either putting a Canadian-stocked team in women’s pro league WPS, or positioning groups of Canadian players in pro teams in Europe. Several players complained about the lack of high-level games at this tournament.