GRENOBLE — They may be an ocean and six time zones away, but the euphoria of the Toronto Raptors’ first NBA championship resonated with Canada at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Canada, who face New Zealand here Saturday in their second game of the tournament, have a number of Ontario products on the roster. But the run to the NBA title captured the imagination of most of the squad as it did the country.
“If you saw Kadeisha’s (Buchanan) goal celebration last game, it was basketball themed,” said midfielder Sophie Schmidt on Friday. “We’re very excited for the Raptors, it’s massive for Canada. I’m not sure if anybody woke up at 3 a.m., to watch the game, but the first thing we all did when we woke up was check our phones and that’s massive for Canada.”
The Raptors won the NBA title with a 114-100 victory in Game 6 of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The previous night, the St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup with a 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 7.
With the two major sports out-of-the-way, Canada hopes they are able to bring the country together with a long run at the World Cup the way they did in 2012 at the London Olympics and then again four years later in Rio, winning back-to-back bronze medals.
“We’re hoping to get the result and have another success story for Canadians to celebrate,” Schmidt said.
A win or tie against New Zealand here (3 p.m. ET, TSN) at the Stade des Alpes would likely be enough for Canada to qualify for the second round of the tournament. Canada defeated Cameroon 1-0 in Montpellier on Monday, which was the first time they won a World Cup opener away from home.
“Coming into a tournament you always want to have the first three points (for the win),” said Canada head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller. “Sometimes you don’t get it, sometimes it takes a few matches, but we got it in the first shot. I think that’s definitely something that took the pressure off our shoulders and made us look lighter coming into the next match. We’re not through yet, but we definitely put ourselves in a very good position.”
GETTING BETTER WITH AGE
With every game, Christine Sinclair will become the oldest player to ever take the field for Canada at a World Cup.
Sinclair celebrated his 36th birthday Wednesday and is still considered one of the most dangerous strikers in the world. She needs four goals to become the most prolific goal scorer of all time – men or women – surpassing retired American striker Abby Wambach.
“She seems to get better as she gets older, I know that sounds strange,” said New Zealand head coach Tom Sermanni, who was an assistant with Canada at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. “When you look at her, she’s almost understated when she’s on the field and she’s just such a clever player, she knows where to be at the right time in the right space, with the right timing.
“I think that’s helped her longevity in the game, she’s not just chasing it about from here there and everywhere. She uses the talent she has extremely effectively and extremely efficiently, and it’s her ability to read the game that sets her apart from most other players.”
Sinclair did not score in the opening win against Cameroon, but came close in the second half. Cameroon played the game with five defenders, three who surrounded Sinclair.
“Christine Sinclair is the definition of a leader,” Schmidt said. “She has the aura about her that just gives confidence as a teammate that no matter the circumstances, she is going to be there for us. She just has this confidence that just puts you at ease knowing that she is on the field playing with you. She just inspires especially our younger players. When you look at Christine she does all the little things, all the little things that you don’t notice, she does and it’s amazing to have somebody on your team like that.”
GOING IN BLIND
Part of the buildup to a World Cup game is getting familiar with the different stadiums, but Canada did not partake in the customary familiarization at the Stade des Alpes on Friday.
A day before defeating Cameroon in Montpellier, Canada got well acquainted with the Stade de la Mosson, with some players laying on the grass to get the feel and smell of it, while others took pictures on the field.
“It was a little bit about the travel,” Heiner-Moller said. “When we were in Montpellier, the stadium was just next door to where we lived and this is a little bit different. That’s mainly the reason why.
“We’ve had the first familiarization, and now we’ve seen it. It’s not the same stadium but I think it’s a very similar feel, but I think the travel time is different.”
Canada is staying at a secluded hotel a 20-minute drive from the stadium and had scheduled a training session in the evening following the media conference with Schmidt and Heiner-Moller at the Stade des Alpes.
Canada plays its final Group E game Thursday against the Netherlands at Roazhon Park in Reims.
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On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest