VANCOVUER, B.C. – The Canadian women’s soccer team have come a long way since the lows of last summer’s World Cup in Germany.
In the six months since crashing out of that tournament with a last place finish, Canada rebound with a gold finish at the Pan American Games in October.
Now comes Friday’s Olympic qualifying semifinal at B.C. Place Stadium, where the team can book a ticket to their second straight Summer Games with a win over Mexico.
“If you have a bad experience or a bad tournament, you either let it affect you or you learn from it,” said Canadian team member Brittany Timko.
“I think this group learned from it. We have an amazing opportunity in front of us. We’re fortunate that we have a big tournament so close to the end of the World Cup, and we’ve definitely learned from it and moved forward from it. We definitely have that under our belt as an experience now.”
When head coach John Herdman took over the reins from Carolina Morace, who was let go shortly after the Germany debacle, he took over a team crushed from not meeting its high expectations at the World Cup.
Now he has them on the threshold of securing a spot for London 2012.
“I think for the most part we’ve moved on from the World Cup,” said star forward Christine Sinclair. “That was one of the first things (Herdman) did when he came on board was (tell us) you learn from last summer and you move on. I think we’re a completely different team.”
Six players on the current Canadian squad were also members of the 2002 under-19 team that lost in the finals of the inaugural U19 World Cup.
They’ve experienced plenty together and Sinclair says Germany wasn’t the first tournament where they’ve had to mentally move on from.
“We’ve had the highs and the lows, not just this year. We’ve experienced it throughout the course of our careers,” she said.
“We’re just in the present right now and we’re very excited about that.”
Herdman points out this chemistry and camaraderie as one of the team’s greatest strengths.
“They’re a tight group. They look after each other, they really do,” he said. “When players are injured, they rally around. When the selections are made, there’s not that sort of closed door backstabbing stuff going on.
“It’s pretty tight and they’re respectful and they’re actually pretty pleased to see their mates getting in the game which is quite refreshing.”
Standing in Canada’s way to London is a Mexican side that, after two easy wins in their first two games of the tournament, is coming off a 4-0 thumping at the hands of the United States.
Canada — ranked No. 7 in the world — is the favourite going into Friday, but the 21st-ranked Mexicans have some history on their side. Mexico upset Canada 2-1 in qualifying for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, claiming the second berth available for CONCACAF behind the Americans.
“I think we were well prepared,” said Mexican head coach Leonardo Cuellar on the 2004 victory against Canada. “I think we knew that Canada was the big favourite and we did the perfect game. We were up 2-0 and we were able to manage to hold the score.”
Canada exacted a matter of revenge in qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The two teams battled for an Olympic berth in Juarez, Mexico with Canada getting the upper hand that time 1-0.
Canada ultimately ended up eighth at those Olympics after losing to the Americans in the quarter-finals.