England Ousts Host Canada To Reach First World Cup Semifinals
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Home-field advantage can mean a lot in sports, especially when a stadium is filled with nearly 55,000 fans, almost all wearing one nation's colors, waving one nation's flag, proudly singing one nation's anthem and passionately cheering on that nation's team.
That support helps, especially since it can intimidate not only the opposition, but -- as England coach Mark Sampson said this week -- the referees, as well.
But even so, the game still comes down to the actual players on the field, not the thousands upon thousands of supportive "12th Man's'' in the stands. And England showed that Saturday when it knocked host Canada out of the World Cup with a 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals in front of 54,027 very disappointed fans at BC Place Stadium.
"I saw a few English fans in the crowd, but I don't think I heard many,'' said forward Jodie Taylor, who scored England's first goal. "I think the stadium went silent when we scored.''
Woe, Canada. And other recent hosts. For the third World Cup in a row, the host country did not reach the semifinals. The United States remains the only nation to do so (1999 and 2003).
"To get a result in that atmosphere against an excellent Canadian team is an incredible result,'' Sampson said. "The fans were unbelievable. I've never been in a stadium as loud and passionate for a team as today. We had to really, really dig deep to get the result we wanted.''
Both England and Canada know how this can go: After all, the two countries played each other in the quarterfinal of the 2012 Olympics in front of a partisan crowd of nearly 29,000 fans in Coventry, England. Nonetheless, Canada shut out England 2-0 in that match. This time, England -- which has won four consecutive matches against Canada -- reversed the Olympic outcome in front of nearly twice as many fans to show how far the women's game has progressed since then in a country where the men's game is on par with religion.
"We all mention the Olympics and how much of a watershed moment that was for women's football in England,'' defender Steph Houghton said after Saturday's match, which didn't end until nearly 2:30 a.m. London time. "We always say that we came here to inspire the nation and hopefully moms and dads let their young girls watch the game late tonight in England.
"Hopefully, we have a lot of young girls playing football at a younger age and in a few years we'll have an even stronger national team.''
That would be impressive considering how well England has done this World Cup. It lost its first match against France -- which is No. 3 in FIFA's world rankings and was eliminated Friday -- but has won its past four matches. It got off to a great start Saturday by scoring two goals in the first 14 minutes against a team that had allowed only one in its previous four matches.
The semifinals open Tuesday when the United States and Germany meet in Montreal. England, the only team in the semis that has never won the Women's World Cup, plays defending World Cup champion Japan on Wednesday in Edmonton, though starting goalkeeper Karen Bardsley's status is up in the air.
Bardsley left in the 52nd minute with an obvious problem in her right eye. Although there was early speculation that it might be related to the artificial turf, Sampson said Bardsley was suffering an allergic reaction, though he was uncertain what the allergy was. "Her eye really puffed up in the second half to the stage where she couldn't see out of it.''
"We'll have to review it and have it looked at,'' Sampson went on. "We have an excellent medical team, and we may have her see a specialist. We don't know exactly where we are with her. We showed today that we have a more than capable backup team, an excellent goalkeeper that can step. Hopefully, Karen will be good to go, but if she's not, we saw today she's not the only goalkeeper who can do well.''
That goalkeeper was Siobhan Chamberlain, who replaced Bardsley and held Canada scoreless the rest of the way.
"That moment in the game epitomizes what this team is all about,'' Sampson said. "She just casually put her gloves on, walked on the field and stepped in front of the goal. That's the story of this team so far. Everyone is playing a part when needed -- from the sideline, on the field.''
Canada, which had clawed back with a goal by Christine Sinclair late in the first half, was pressing hard in the second but was unable to equalize. Chamberlain had to make only one save.
When time expired, England celebrated while Canada's players dropped to their knees in disappointment and sadness while the fans began trickling out. The team took nearly two hours to speak with reporters in the mixed zone.
Sinclair, whose 155th international goal left her three shy of tying Mia Hamm for second-most in soccer history (Abby Wambach holds the record at 183), is 32 years old but said she "absolutely'' plans to still be around for the 2019 World Cup. If so, she will be playing in front of fans passionately rooting for the next host country: France.
Which, as Saturday's outcome showed, does not mean opponents won't be able to overcome that support.