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REIMS — Group E at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup saved the best for last when Canada and the Netherlands face each other here at the Stade Auguste Delaune on Thursday.
With both teams having already qualified for the second round and neither overly choosy about its next opponent, the game has the potential to be a wide-open affair.
“Obviously, they’re the European champions, they’re a very talented bunch, they have three world-class forward, and they’re a step up in level that we haven’t experienced yet at this tournament,” said Canada captain Christine Sinclair following a training session on Tuesday. “I’ll definitely be a different game than we had in the first two.”
Like Canada, Netherlands won its first two games of the tournament, needing a late goal to get past New Zealand 1-0 and then defeating Cameroon 3-1. Canada beat Cameroon 1-0 and New Zealand 2-0 to get past the group stage for the first time at a World Cup held in Europe.
Canada and the Netherlands met four years ago at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in a similar situation and played to a 1-1 tie in Montreal.
“I think both teams have improved tremendously,” Sinclair said. “Obviously, I know us a lot better and the team we are now compared to four years ago, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were and just the style of play has completely change. Those youngsters that were experiencing their first World Cup are now leaders on this team.”
Four years ago, Canada had the distinct home-field advantage as over 45,000 packed into the Olympic Stadium in Montreal to watch the contest. This time around, Holland will essentially be the home team as Reims is just a three-and-a-half hour drive from the Dutch border.
The Netherlands have received outstanding support so far in this tournament as a sea of orange has followed the team around France.
“I think we’re actually looking forward to it,” Sinclair said. “We always want to try and silence some fans. It’s just going to be a great environment to play in. Just walking around town (Monday) I saw a bunch of the Dutch supporters and they’re already talking smack. It’s going to be a great environment, I can’t wait.”
CLOSE TO HOME
Canadian Ashley Lawrence would love nothing more than to score against the Netherlands on Thursday now living in the area.
Lawrence, 24, has spent the past three years playing professionally for Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital, just a 45-minute train ride from Reims.
“Playing in Paris, the supporters that we have continues to grow,” Lawrence said. “Being a part of the Champions League, it’s always a great atmosphere and just seeing how much the women’s game has grown is exciting. I remember that first season playing in the final and the atmosphere was really crazy. I had my mom and my brother there and so it was really cool. I think it’s just exciting and I’m looking forward to the game in two days.”
Lawrence expects a strong challenge from the Netherlands, who are the reigning European champions, winning the tournament at home two years ago.
The Netherlands competed at the Women’s World Cup for the first time four years ago, making it past the group stage and losing to Japan in the second round. Canada and the Netherlands played to a 1-1 tie with Lawrence scoring her only World Cup goal to date.
“I think they do have players with quality, they have players playing in top environments,” Lawrence said. “But we’re ready. These last few months we’ve played against opposition of different calibre, so for us, we’re prepared to go into the game, we’re confident and the goal for us is to impose ourselves on them.”
DUTCH STRIKERS WORLD CLASS
The Dutch strike force features one of the best forwards in the world in Lieke Martens, who made her World Cup debut four years ago in Canada and scored her country’s first goal in the tournament.
Martens, 26, who plays for FC Barcelona, has 42 goals in 102 international appearances. She has yet to score at this World Cup.
“I think people say it’s the hardest thing to do in our sport and when you’re a natural born goal scorer, that’s what you are,” Sinclair said. “We’ve watched a lot of film on her and her front line and she’s a poacher in the box; she always seems to find open spaces she always seems to know where the ball is going to end up. She’s one of those players that if you give her a chance, she’s going to put it in the back of the net. Our back line has to definitely be aware of her, but they have a few of them that they need to be aware of.”
Teams take their closed training sessions seriously at the World Cup and a Dutch journalist felt the consequences of peeking into Canada’s practice Tuesday.
Media was sequestered downstairs in a basement hallway at Canada’s practice facility away from windows overlooking the field on the upper level. A journalist from the Netherlands went upstairs to use the bathroom and lingered a little too long for the liking of Canada’s support staff and was told to leave the complex.
All of Canada’s training sessions have been closed after 15 minutes, which is a foreign concept to some journalists who are used to watching NHL teams practice for the duration.
A few members of the Canadian media contingent are going to the Netherlands training session Wednesday, and will likely have to be on their best behaviour.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019