An expanded field brings a longer World Cup to Canada
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — John Herdman is from England, and he is already facing questions about his choice for Canada's quarterfinal opponent — the Three Lionesses or Norway.
No matter, he swears.
The Canadians will be back in Vancouver's BC Place on Saturday ready to grind out another hard-fought result as has been the mantra for this group during a special World Cup run right at home. One goal has been enough.
"We have not been a team ever that has romped teams," Herdman said.
Canada defeated Switzerland 1-0 on Sunday behind Josee Belanger's goal in the 52nd minute and the reliable hands of veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who earned Player of the Match for her late-game stops. She and the defense have surrendered just one goal in four games this World Cup as Canada advanced out of the group stage for only the second time and first since 2003.
"In the second half especially we played like the Canada I know," McLeod said. "For us at this stage it's huge. There have been a lot of upsets in this tournament already. We want to go all the way. We've set a lot of even bigger goals, inspiring a country and not just on the soccer field."
Well after the final whistle, the Canadians stayed on the pitch and danced to the music. The Canadians in the crowd stayed put, too, to soak it all in. They get to do it all again.
While Herdman acknowledges there's no mistaking his Geordie English accent, his heart is safely beneath the Maple Leaf.
"For us, we're just on task. We'll play any of those teams and we'll be prepared like we were for the Swiss today," Herdman said.
STAY, JUST A LITTLE BIT LONGER: This World Cup World Cup is different than those of years past in that the field was expanded to 24 teams, up from 16. As a result, an extra stage was added.
That makes for a longer World Cup. U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe says her team will be crisscrossing Canada for about a month and a week, in total.
This World Cup is being played across six Canadian cities, spanning from Vancouver on the west coach to Moncton, New Brunswick, a distance of about 3,600 miles.
But the second-ranked Americans have had a five-day layoff between the group stage and Monday's round-of-16 match against upstart Colombia.
It feels different from four years ago in Germany, where not only was the field more condensed, the travel was less spread out with the matches in city centers, Rapinoe said.
"We've had some extra days in there, which is good for the body. Sort of trying to stave off the boredom, that's difficult," she said. "But it's nice to get a couple of extra days — with so much travel that we've done in playing these games. Obviously our games were very taxing, physically and mentally."
The United States finished atop the so-called Group of Death at the World Cup, with victories against Australia and Nigeria and a scoreless draw with Sweden.
During a break in the team's preparation, the team went to the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America. It has an indoor waterpark.
No one recognized them.
"Someone came up to me, and she was like, 'I'm a tourist, and I was wondering, did there used to be a dinosaur in this building?' " Morgan said. "I was waiting for it and waiting for it, and no, she was just asking me a question."
NORWAY LOOKS FOP OLYMPIC BID: Norway coach Even Pellerud takes no consolation in knowing his squad has an opportunity to officially end rival Sweden's chances of qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"If the question was if we are happy to eliminate Sweden, that's a no. I have a lot of respect for Pia and her staff, the Swedish team," Pellerud said, referring to Swedish coach Pia Sundhage. "We are not performing to punish Sweden. ... Whoever becomes a part of this group of teams from Europe, the only question for us is, is Norway there?'"
Under Olympic rules, the top-three European World Cup finishers qualify for the Olympics.
Top-ranked Germany and third-ranked France have already advanced to the quarterfinal round. That leaves one spot open, which will be decided between Norway and England. Sweden was eliminated following a 4-1 loss to Germany on Saturday.
AND THEN THERE'S ENGLAND:
England coach Mark Sampson doesn't regard his team to be the favorite over Norway no matter what the FIFA rankings might suggest.
"First and foremost, there's no underdogs in this game," Sampson said, when reminded England is ranked sixth, five spots ahead of Norway as the two teams prepare to play in a Round of 16 game at Ottawa on Monday.
What Sampson won't argue is that England is in a far better position now than two years ago, when the Brits were ranked 11th.
"We have huge respect for our opponents. And we're aware of what we can bring to the game," he said. "We're in a great place not to really come into this tournament and approach this game tomorrow with a confident mindset."
GROWING THE GAME: South Korean coach Dukyeo Yoon knows how far his team has come.
And how far it still has to go.
The Taeguk Ladies had never won a World Cup game before beating Spain 2-1 in the Group E finale. (In fact, they had only scored one goal while losing all three matches in their only other World Cup appearance, a 14th-place finish in 2003.)
A 3-0 loss to third-ranked France ended their 2015 tournament, and Yoon took a moment to think about the future.
"In order for us to advance in the world stage, the players' individual skills could be improved," he said, adding that the coaching needs to improve, too. "That's our challenge.
"We don't have sturdy grassroots soccer in Korea. We need to build a sturdy grassroots framework," he said. "But we made it in 12 years to the World Cup (round of 16) ... I am convinced those players can play a role in that next World Cup. They will grow, and gain even more experience."
RECAPPING SUNDAY: No. 10 Australia advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time — on either the men's or women's side, with a 1-0 victory over seventh-ranked Brazil. That ends Brazil's quest for its first World Cup title. Host Canada, ranked No. 8, defeated No. 19 Switzerland 1-0 before a raucous crowd in Vancouver. Third-ranked France, considered a favorite in Canada despite a group-stage stumble against Colombia, defeated No. 18 South Korea 3-0.
WHAT HAPPENED SATURDAY: No. 16 China survived with a 1-0 victory over No. 53 Cameroon, which was the lowest ranked team to make the knockout stage. Celia Sasic scored twice and top-ranked Germany earned a spot in the quarterfinals with a 4-1 victory over No. 5 Sweden.
UP NEXT: The second-ranked United States faces No. 28 Colombia at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, while No. 11 Norway faces No. 6 England in Ottawa.