By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – Canada took its time leaving the stadium Saturday night after exiting the Women’s World Cup in a painful 2-1 quarter-final loss to England.
Coach John Herdman told his players how proud he was of them, how they had inspired Canada and to hold their heads high. Captain Christine Sinclair addressed the team.
There were farewells to be said to retiring goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. And the team took time out to honour veteran midfielder Diana Matheson, who made it onto the field after a string of major injuries.
And there were tears. “A lot of tears,” said midfielder Sophie Schmidt. “But also some special moments.”
On the field, the key moments favoured England as Canada was undone on defence, giving up two goals in a brutal three-minute spell early in the first half.
The quarter-final departure is by the numbers for eighth-ranked Canada. But Herdman’s team will feel it should have had the measure of No. 6 England and has missed a gilt-edged opportunity to make the final four of the soccer showcase for only the second time.
It’s a step forward from the 2011 World Cup when Canada finished dead last in the field of 16. And a step back from the bronze-medal showing at the 2012 Olympics.
“I’m proud of my girls. I think they give you everything,” said Herdman. “It just wasn’t good enough tonight and the dream’s over. It’s not how we imagined it would end.”
Said England coach Mark Sampson: “I’m really proud of my team and also really proud of women’s football today. It was an unbelievable occasion.”
The English women join their male counterparts from 1966 and 1990 in advancing to a World Cup semifinal.
Canada can only wonder what might have been. Sinclair took consolation from the more than 235,000 loud and proud fans who had watched the Canadians play since June 6.
“This one stings,” said Sinclair. “But in the grand scheme of things, this tournament was a huge success.”
Saturday’s record-breaking crowd of 54,027 at B.C. Place Stadium was one of the stars of the show. When Sinclair scored, the noise was so loud that Sampson said it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
The attendance erased the Canadian national team mark of 53,855 set in the same venue last Sunday for the round-of-16 game against Switzerland.
Canada went out on its shield, taking the game to the English as it tried to mount a comeback from the 2-0 deficit. Sinclair scored late in the first half and played her best game of the tournament, constantly probing the English defence for weaknesses.
Canada outshot England 14-8 but the English had a 4-3 edge in shots on target.
Five minutes of stoppage time made for a nervy ending with the crowd trying to urge Canada on.
“Pretty damn tense,” said Sampson.
“I’ve got to give huge credit to John and all the Canadian team. They pushed us to the wire today. I’m not sure any Canadian can come off that field feeling they could have done any more. They really made us fight for every ball, defend our (penalty) box with our lives.”
As the final whistle blew, English players rushed the field to celebrate. Canadians dropped to their knees in disappointment. Teenage defender Kadeisha Buchanan, who had a remarkable tournament for Canada, had to be consoled by teammates.
Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze scored for England as Canada’s defence, which had been breached just once in its four previous games, gave up goals in the 11th and 14th minutes.
“We had to really really dig deep to get the result we wanted,” said Sampson.
Sinclair notched her 155th international goal thanks to an goalkeeping gaffe by Karen Bardsley. The English ‘keeper was eventually forced off in the 52nd minute due to an allergic reaction around her eyes to something. She was replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain.
England now plays defending champion Japan in Wednesday’s semifinal in Edmonton.
The other semifinal, set for Tuesday in Montreal, sees No. 1 Germany versus the second-ranked Americans.
At No. 6, England was Canada’s first opponent at the tournament with a better world ranking. The eighth-ranked Canadian women had previously beaten No. 16 China and No. 19 Switzerland and tied No. 17 New Zealand and the 12th-ranked Netherlands.
It was a savvy sometimes cynical performance from England, which defended in numbers after going ahead.
Sampson had complained before the match that the host country had got an easy ride from referees. But it was England who looked to antagonize with players taking particular aim at Canadian midfield creator Sophie Schmidt, who was roughed up every time she got the ball.
The English played with their elbows up, looking to disrupt the home side. Uruguayan referee Claudia Umpierrez penalized them but not often enough for the liking of the crowd.
England committed 21 fouls to 15 by Canada, with each team getting one yellow card.
Canada started well and threatened first.
The Canadians put together a terrific sequence in the eighth minute when Schmidt won the ball back deep in her own half and fed Sinclair, who put the ball through the legs of two English players before lofting a perfect cross-field pass to Melissa Tancredi. But the goal-starved striker shot high.
Three minutes later, Canadian defender Lauren Sesselmann got the ball tangled up in her feet and Taylor pounced on it, accelerating towards the Canadian goal with two defenders chasing her. Taylor then calmly beat Erin McLeod with a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty box.
Sesselmann, who is coming back from knee surgery, had looked strong in the early going Saturday. But she had giveaways earlier in the tournament and this time she paid for it.
Sesselmann, like many of her teammates, did not speak to the media afterwards.
It was 2-0 in the 14th minute as Canada wobbled on defence again when Bronze beat the much smaller Allysha Chapman to a free kick and headed the ball in off the crossbar. The sun streaming through the stadium roof did not help Chapman’s cause.
As England celebrated wildly, the Canadian players gathered in a huddle in a bid to stem the flow of goals.
England dominated on set plays and Steph Houghton hit the woodwork with a header in the 28th minute.
Canada kept chipping away and pulled one back in the 42nd minute when Bardsley failed to hang onto a less-than-challenging Ashley Lawrence shot. Sinclair, Johnny on the spot, tapped it in.
McLeod made a big save in the 55th minute, palming a Taylor shot away.
Matheson came on in the 62nd minute. Herdman then shifted Canada into attack mode formation in a desperate bid for the tying goal.
Schmidt shot high in the 83rd minute. As the game neared its end, Canadian players queued up to take shots but could not make them count. Buchanan was thrown up front as Canada rolled the dice.
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