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Despite own expectations to win, Canada’s women sense a lightening of the load as World Cup approaches

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This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

As Canada prepares for the Women’s World Cup, it’s important to reflect on their achievements, struggles and dive into why this particular tournament is so important for this team and this country. 

The final list of the 23 players representing Canada was announced on Sunday. On the Sunday night (Monday afternoon in Australia) media call, head coach Bev Priestman said that she had selected “a super dynamic and exciting roster.”

As the reigning Olympic champions, is there a sense of added pressure on this team? A more pointed question is: how could there not be? Are they respected the way they ought to be? 

There is a sense of immediacy from this team. And their motives are clear: they want to win it all. 

They have had an opportunity to connect and train on the Gold Coast for a few weeks before the tournament begins July 19, with their first game July 20 against Nigeria.

Not having a send-off game in Canada has not been appreciated by many fans, but it has afforded the team the opportunity to train together for longer than some other teams. All the more crucial considering the ill atmosphere the last time the team was all together at the SheBelieves Cup in February when they played in protest against Canada Soccer over pay negotiations.

WATCH | Can Canada make it out of tough Group B:

Can Canada make it out of the group of death in the Women’s World Cup? | Soccer North

Host Andi Petrillo and CBC’s Shireen Ahmed play a game called ‘Something, Nothing, and Everything’ and discuss Canada’s young emerging talent who could play a huge role in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Moving forward, team captain Christine Sinclair said that she feels confident that an agreement will be reached before the first game. Before they left for Australia, the leadership of the team said they wanted the dispute settled quickly. 

“We are awaiting replies from our national teams on the offers proposed to them. We share the desire to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” a Canada Soccer representative said Tuesday.

Being able to focus on playing is exactly what has to happen. The team needs to know that their country and federation is backing them so all their energy can be put on the field. 

In the last weeks there have been stories about federations and teams at odds regarding money. I wrote about Jamaica’s GoFundMe campaign last week but now there are reports of Nigeria being extremely unhappy with their federation as well. 

The Super Falcon’s coach, Texan Randy Waldrum, said recently: “We still have players that haven’t been paid since two years ago, when we played the summer series in the USA. It’s a travesty.”

If Canada can put all of the stress of negotiations on the back burner and focus on the pitch, that will be one element of proving naysayers wrong. 

In the lead-up to the World Cup, I have spoken with at least eight players who have said in different words but similar sentiments that Canada is overlooked and not always given the respect it deserves. 

The sense is this is not only an important tournament to win for the players, but also to cement that their gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics was not a “fluke” and rather the result of the grit and passion with which they train and play.

When asked about Canada’s reputation, Vanessa Gilles told CBC Sports in a recent interview: “I think honestly, unfortunately, being in the football world, I think people still view us as the underdogs. People kind of viewed the Olympics as like, oh, it was lucky or, you know, COVID. 

“So, I think we’re going into it with another point to prove. Let’s see what we can do. … So I don’t want to say we have a target on our backs. I think we’re going into it again as underdogs, unfortunately.”

Canada has often been made to feel disrespected or overlooked as a serious competitor. Despite having a captain that is the highest scoring international player of all time, there seems to be a need for Canada to show itself as a soccer nation. Gilles is focused on what comes next and although Canada’s last two appearances at the Women’s World Cup were not stellar finishes, this year they are hoping to make a notable difference in the finishing. 

Sinclair said, “We’re going there to win it.”

WATCH | Christine Sinclair on Canada’s goal at Women’s World Cup:

‘We’re going there to win it’, Christine Sinclair on Canada’s World Cup expectations

Host Andi Petrillo sits down with Canadian captain Christine Sinclair ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“Even with a gold medal to our names and two bronze medals. We’re going into it, we’ve never gotten that trophy, [or] been in that final of the World Cup and we’re hoping to prove our point this year,” Gilles said. 

It’s no secret that the beginning of 2023 was difficult for the team. The year began with team leadership having to be public about their difficulties with the federation and at one point team stalwart Sophie Schmidt said she was talked out of quitting the national team. Schmidt is the captain of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. 

But this latest insertion of young players brings forth a spirit that the older players also appreciate. When asked about the young players on the team — like 18-year-old Olivia Smith — Sinclair said “it’s nice to see the young ones come into play.”

That lightness is something that strengthens a team and we’ve seen glimpses of them enjoying the time in Australia, meeting koalas and kangaroos. 

There is a joy and excitement about representing Canada and I hope that although the veterans are invaluable with what they have done to elevate soccer in Canada, they get a moment to be lost in the beautiful game and truly feel inspired and enlightened.

We have seen them play with a tenacity and with a fire that electrifies the country and the top of the podium. 

I know that Canada is behind this team. And I hope the path is smooth, and they find inspiration and joy at their feet without having the weight of the world on their shoulders. 


Soccer North is back with a focus on the Canadian women’s team as it prepares for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Join host Andi Petrillo and special guests on Friday for insight and analysis leading into tournament. 

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