My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
There will always be a debate about what makes a fantastic World Cup, but one of the key attributes is the success of the host nation. The hosts give the tournament its atmosphere, the joyous celebration of the greatest sport in the world. Of course, it depends on who the hosts are. For example, when South Africa hosted the men’s World Cup in 2010, they provided a brilliant carnival atmosphere because for them, the success was hosting the tournament.
But for Canada, a country that despite their ranking have always struggled in the World Cup, winning their first game was the only outcome. A packed crowd filled the Edmonton stadium – 53,058 spectators making it the biggest crowd in Canadian football (either men’s or women’s) – anticipating they would do what no Canadian side had ever done. Win their opening World Cup game.
They started strongly. The fluidity that Melissa Tancredi, Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt provided looked like they could unlock the Chinese defence.
But as the game grew older, the more confidence the Chinese gained and they really should have taken the lead from Wang Lisi’s free-kick in the first half. Maybe the sight of the ball hitting both posts should have told us the footballing Gods were on Canada’s side.
And despite Canada winning 1-0, thanks to Christine Sinclair’s contentious penalty, the fair result would have been 0-0. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Kadeisha Buchanan’s calm and intelligent defensive display (especially compared to the nervier Lauren Sesselmann), China might have stolen a win.
As you would expect, China’s success came from how they set up without the ball. There are two ways to frustrate a player with the ball: close her down, or shut off the easy passes. China did both superbly.
China lined up in a 4-5-1 formation but defended with two banks of four with the forward players of Li Ying and Wang Shanshan filling in the gaps needed. Each player knew her responsibility and carried it out perfectly.
The Canadian’s played a high line, with their back four encouraged to move with the ball. This was fine for China, whose players cleverly blocked off the simple passes with often forced the home side into ambitious long balls.
And when Canada got into the final third, the Chinese defence did not panic. When the ball moved into her zone, the player quickly closed down the ball, and then retreated back into their position at the correct time. All the time their focus was in pressurising the ball, and forcing Canada into ambitious passes.
Canada never worked out how to solve this. In the first half, Tancredi played a lovely chipped ball over the back four to where Christine Sinclair had made a clever run to. This is what they needed to do more. They needed to put the Chinese defence into two minds, give them that momentary confusion to force a mistake.
Because when Canada did get the ball into the box, there were two outcomes. One, Chinese defenders putting their bodies on the line. Or two, the keeper Wang Fei who confidently claimed nearly every single cross.
This is why Canada’s goal came from a contentious penalty decision, where the referee decided Zhao Rong had elbowed Adriana Leon in what came across as a 50-50 challenge. And they needed Christine Sinclair to score the perfect penalty: bottom left corner, brushing the inside of the left post that had denied Wang Lisi in the first half. A couple of centimetres to the right, Wang Fei would have saved it.
The tournament got the win it needed, however, China were denied the point they deserved.