Thursday, August 7, 2014

Canada loses U-20 opener 1-0 to Ghana in FIFA U-20 Women's WorldCup

Canada's Emma Fletcher (right) is tackled by Cynthia Yiadom during first half action in 2014 FIFA U-20 women's World Cup action in Toronto on Tuesday August 5, 2014.
The pressure of playing at home, in the biggest match of their young careers, proved costly for Canada’s under-20 women’s soccer team Tuesday.

The Canadians dropped a 1-0 decision to Ghana in the opening game for both teams of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, a disappointing result for a host team that’s hoping to go far in this tournament.

“This is our first major tournament, and also it’s at home, we had a lot of people in the stands for us. It was a little added pressure,” said forward Nichelle Prince. “We knew it was coming, but it’s kind of different when you step on the field, and we had to get adjusted to that. It took us a few minutes to do that.”

Sherifatu Sumaila scored the game’s lone goal in the 22nd minute against a Canadian team that was on its heels in the early going. Sumaila capitalized on a cross from Edem Atovor, pouncing on a rebound after Canada’s ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan had pushed a shot away.

“I don’t think it was too much pressure, but it was certainly new pressure,” said Canadian coach Andrew Olivieri. “The biggest word right now is ‘adapt’ for them.”

Olivieri also said it was “a bit of a curse” not having to go through a qualifying tournament prior to the World Cup — Canada automatically qualified as the host country.

So Canada was lacking big-game experience “. . . not playing in big matches that you have to win. So this is the first match they’re faced with the need to get a result,” he said.

Some 14,834 fans turned out to the National Soccer Stadium — or BMO Field to its regular tenants, Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC. The crowd was predominantly red and white, but was dotted with numerous Ghana flags. And a large pocket of Ghana fans stood all game long, dancing and banging drums, their singing growing in volume as the night wore on. If the Ghana fans numbered 1,000, they made it sound like they were 10,000.

“We have so many Ghanaians here, they have made us feel at home, and we have felt it,” said Ghana’s coach Bashir Hayford. “When we advance, when we progress, the number will be quadrupled.”

Canada brought a different energy to the second half, and a “different quality from all the players.”
“That’s part of the learning experience, players getting adapted to playing in front of the home crowd, a lot of expectation, a World Cup first for many of them, so it took us too long to adapt,” he said.
Canada had 55 per cent of the possession against the bigger and faster Ghanaians, and had several decent scoring opportunities.

Emma Fletcher banged a shot off the post late in the first half, while Prince, a second-half substitute, beat two defenders to get off a left-footed shot while falling down. The shot went straight into the hands of Ghana’s goalkeeper Victoria Agyei.

Kadeisha Buchanan, a regular on John Herdman’s Canadian senior side, was solid on the back line, and almost scored in injury time, poking at a loose ball during a scramble in front of the net that shot over the crossbar.

Asked if he was pleased with his team’s performance, Olivieri answered “Nope.”

“I’d say I was pleased with the energy and lot with what the players brought in the later stages, when we were more desperate,” he said. “I’d love to see better from us, certainly early in the game. A lot more progressive play, a lot more play towards the front, and just a lot more confidence.”

Sheridan, a ‘keeper Clemson University, said there was added pressure playing on the tournament’s first day, and against a strong team such as Ghana.

“But I think that’s something you have to deal with,” she said.

“(The crowd) was great, it was crazy walking down the tunnel and seeing all the fans,” she added. “It was nice to be in our home country and on our home turf for the first time for me. It just gave me a rush. I was coming (down the tunnel) and I couldn’t stop smiling.”

The Canadians’ best showing at this tournament came in 2002 when they lost to the United States in the gold-medal game in Edmonton — the beginning of international careers for the likes of Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang, who would go on to become household names in Canada.

Both Canada and Ghana were knocked out in group phase two years ago in Japan. The Canadian team is predominantly all new faces from that 2012 squad, and is mostly made up of players attending U.S. colleges.

Ghana has a few returnees from its U20 team two years ago, plus several players who were part of its third-place team at the U17 World Cup in 2012. They come from Ghana club teams such as Fabulous Ladies, Blessed Ladies, and Police Ladies.

Canada next plays Finland on Friday in Toronto, then heads to Montreal to face North Korea on Tuesday.

The Canadians need to finish top two in Group A to advance to the quarter-finals. The Group A winners will play the quarter-final in Toronto, while second place in the group will head to Edmonton for the quarters. The tournament semifinals are in Montreal and Moncton, N.B., while Montreal hosts the gold-medal game.

North Korea beat Finland 2-1 in the earlier Group A game Tuesday.

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