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Sports

Canada's new generation of footballers set to emulate 2003 vintage

media Canada's Josee Belanger (9) holds off the attentions of China defender Liu Shanshan during their Group A clash at the women's World Cup. Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

It couldn't have been better timed. Hosts Canada are achieving at the Women's World Cup tournament. Kudos is due to coach John Herdman and his veteran skipper Christine Sinclair, who is playing in her fourth World Cup. Back in 2003, as a callow 20-year-old, she was part of the squad that reached the semi-finals and eventually finished fourth.

 

Fast forward 12 years and the 2015 vintage has a chance to emulate the mythical team that defied expectations in the United States. The 2003 crop are etched into Canadian legend quite simply because before their exploits, the country's players had not distinguished themselves in the World Cup. True, they'd qualified for the 1995 and 1999 tournaments but they limped out in the group stages on both occasions

In 2003, after finishing the pool stages second behind Germany, Canada beat China 1-0 in the quarter-finals before losing 2-1 against Sweden in the semi-finals in Portland. They were turned over 3-1 in the third place play-off.

But ancient history is being supplanted by the thrusting tales of a new group. And it's something of a virtuous circle enveloping the generations on home soil.

Victor Montagliani, president of Canada Soccer, said: "Sometimes people find it difficult to make the connection between a national team player and the grass roots. But when the national team players are out with the young girl players, you can see the torch burning."

He added: "You see the looks on the faces of those young girls. And yes, many of them will never play for the national team - that's the reality of any high performance sport - but the players now are lighting the flame for the future."

Canada will go into the quarter-final at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver with the bragging rights. They beat England 1-0 in a World Cup warm-up game on 29 May in Hamilton.

But the English are on something of a roll and intent on carving a piece of history for themselves. Coach Mark Sampson has dug deep into his squad by using all 20 outfield players in the matches so far. The team has rallied since the opening day defeat to France. That 1-0 setback was followed with 2-1 victories over Mexico and Colombia in the group stages, before beating Norway by the same score in the last 16.

That success was the first time England had won a World Cup knockout game. Sampson's side are trying to reach their first semi-finals. Of course, the Canadians have been there before.

And nearly 60,000 fans will be cheering them on raucously on Saturday night to repeat the feat.

 

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