Comeback against Finland averts another disaster for host country at U20 FIFA Women’s World Cup

With a reputation as one of the most underachieving soccer nations in the world, the first game of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup did nothing to provide Canada with any relief. Compared to the men’s program, Canada’s women have managed to provide hope for its fans. Having qualified in Women’s World Cups in years past, many of Canada’s female soccer heroes have become sporting heroes.

After a euphoric outcome at the 2012 London Summer Games, where Canada finished with a bronze medal (the highlight at the Games was Christine Sinclair becoming the first player to score a hat trick against Hope Solo), expectations have been raised for women’s soccer in Canada. With the traditional hockey superpower hosting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the 2014 edition of the U20 event is supposed to be a teaser for hopefully great moments to come.

Canada captain Kinley McNicoll (left) joins the celebration as players mob Valerie Sanderson (19) after she scores the game tying goal as Finland's Emilia Iskanius walks away during second half action in 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup action in Toronto. Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Canada captain Kinley McNicoll (left) joins the celebration as players mob Valerie Sanderson (19) after she scores the game tying goal as Finland’s Emilia Iskanius walks away during second half action in 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup action in Toronto. Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Realistically, such glories may not occur for Canada this year. A heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Ghana in the opening round of group competition was compounded by the enthusiasm of 1,000 loud and excited fans rooting for Canada. Of note, Canada’s soccer sadness was part of a sad day in Canadian sport. On the same day, Eugenie Bouchard lost on home soil in the Rogers Cup while 2014 Sochi gold medalists Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson lost for the first time during the second running of The Amazing Race Canada.

Taking into account that Canada’s second game would be held at BMO Field in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, the pressure was only raised. Such pressure resulted in Canada facing a 2-0 deficit versus Finland at halftime.

Finland’s Juliette Kemppi opened the scoring within the first five minutes of the game, as Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan misplayed a corner. After the 20-minute mark, Kemppi intercepted Canadian Sura Yekka, a top prospect in Canada’s program, for her second goal. With 16,503 dejected supporters, a national TV audience was facing the fact that another loss would result in Canada having no chance at qualifying for the next round of play.

Three minutes after halftime, Janine Beckie nodded a short corner to raise hopes. This was followed by Nichelle Prince engaging in some playmaking abilities that tied the game. She would cut back a cross that Valerie Sanderson would bury into the net as the Toronto crowd was revived.

Suddenly, a miracle seemed possible as Prince capitalized on a rebound to provide Canada with its first lead of the game. Managing to hold on to the lead, it would prove to be one of the great matches in Canadian women’s soccer history.

In dramatic fashion, the third and final match of group play takes play against first place North Korea in Montreal. Should Finland manage to tie Ghana in their match, it would certainly ease pressures for host country Canada who could advance with a tie against North Korea. For Canadian head coach Andrew Olivieri, the objective is to win as it would guarantee Canada a spot in the quarterfinals.

Some of Canada’s brightest prospects in this tournament include the likes of Kadeisha Buchanan and 16-year-old Jessie Fleming. Should these two manage to initiate smart offensive attacks on the pitch, it may result in Canadian fans forgetting about the 1-0 loss to Ghana, focusing instead on the possible glories to come.

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