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Fans in Montreal the real heroes for Canada's WNT

When Quebec goes red and loud for Canada’s National Women’s Soccer Team

June 18, 2015 By Angela Asante
On 15 June 2015, local fans in Montreal were the real heroes as Canada secured a spot as group winners in the Last 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a draw against the Netherlands.

During the week that led to Canada’s third group stage match against the Netherlands, the city of Montreal seemed relatively unfazed about this international tournament. When looking for my way to the Olympic Stadium, most cab drivers I talked to were unaware that such a big event was going on in the country. Some confused it for the Pan Am Games.

The transformation took place on Monday, June 15th. A huge sea of local fans in red – some of which made a six-hour trip from Toronto to Montreal just to cheer the hosts – outnumbered orange shirts at the Pie IX metro station ahead of the country’s final group stage match of the FIFA WWC, against the Dutch. On the field, however, the two teams were almost evenly matched as debutants Netherlands pretty much managed to control Canadian living legend Christine Sinclair.

It would be fair to state that in their two previous matches (the 1-0 win against China and the goalless draw against New Zealand), the Canadians seemed too reliant on captain Sinclair. With oppositions carrying out special plans to block her moves on the pitch, the 31-year-old skipper could not display her best football. However, coach John Herdman was quick to rightfully defend his team captain, stating after the game against the Netherlands:

“She was prepared to press on for the full 90 minutes. Is she the best player in our team? Look, we’ve challenged everyone on the team to step up a level. We need new Sinclairs.”

Apparently, Herdman's wish is becoming a reality. Against the Dutch on Matchday 3, Canada made their attacking efforts count right from kickoff with 20-year-old Ashley Lawrence breaking the deadlock after nine minutes only. The crowd's huge roar in celebration of the goal could make one go deaf! Christine Sinclair added her voice to those screams in the aftermath of the game, heaping praise on her team mate:

“The youngsters are doing awesome. When we came into the tournament, we knew they were going to play a major role. They did great. I'm so proud of Ash getting on the end of that goal.”

She however admitted:

“I thought for the first 20 minutes, we played really well. We came up flying. I'd say we reached our potential for a moment but not for the full 90 minutes.”

Remarkably, the Netherlands' team and relatively small number of fans at the Olympic Stadium didn't succumb to the home side's intimidation just yet. Series of opportunities fell to both teams, much to the delight of the public. It was going to take non-stop singing and clapping from Canadian supporters group “The Voyageurs” to inspire Christine Sinclair and company right until the very end of the game to accomplish their mission of not losing.

In dramatic fashion, the Dutch equalized with three minutes left on the clock. It took a powerful shot by Kirsten Van de Ven to finally deceive the amazing Erin McLeod. All night long, Canada’s goalie had put in a performance worthy of a comparison with Germany’s Men’s National Team shot-stopper Manuel Neuer.

Conceding a goal didn’t matter much, though, as long as she didn’t allow a second one. A draw was enough to qualify as Group A winners and that’s what they got by holding on in the dying minutes of the game. Josée Belanger, who is from Coaticook in southeastern Quebec, believes it was all down to the energy offered by the locals:

“We needed hardcore fans like these to increase our momentum. We heard them and I think it's been a beautiful experience for the people in Quebec.”

Goalscorer Ashley Lawrence also thanked the fans as she told

“People have been so welcoming and enthusiastic. The atmosphere of the game just proved to be great. We're really proud of how Montreal came out and responded today.”

Sinclair declared:

“The crowd was incredible. They were loud. I think it was the loudest crowd we’ve played in front of, yet. The way the stadium is [with a roof] helps. All the noise stays in. It's a fun place to play at.”

Numbers do not lie. As confirmed by FIFA, the Olympic Stadium was 90 per cent filled on June 15th with precisely 45,420 spectators witnessing the hosts’ progress into the Round of 16.

Canada’s future in Women’s Soccer is bright on various levels. In terms of its fan base, it must be noted that an all-time FIFA Women’s World Cup match record was set early on, with as many as 2.3 million viewers located in Canada following the team’s second group stage fixture against New Zealand.

Meanwhile, on the field, the array of talent in the form of 20-year-old midfielder Ashley Lawrence and 19-year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan not only backs the statement about the growth of women’s football in the country; it also attracts larger pools of fans to proudly support the country's ladies because who doesn’t love to watch rapid and intelligent athletes kicking a ball around?

When the nation won the right to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada’s WNT looked forward to July 5th as the date on which to lift the trophy in Vancouver, their “home”. However, they didn’t have to wait that long to gain something almost equally valuable on June 15th; and that was the energy of the people in the city of Montreal which could be seen as some kind of confirmation that passion for soccer truly exists from west to east in a country where Ice Hockey is the most popular religion.

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