VANCOUVER, B.C.—The two CONCACAF berths for the women's soccer tournament at the London Olympics this summer have already been secured by Canada and the U.S., but that doesn't make Sunday's tournament final between the two countries (8 p.m. Eastern, Sportsnet/CONCACAF.com) irrelevant. Both rosters are deep, and players will be fighting to keep or earn starting jobs; a strong performance in this game could help boost their cases for London. Perhaps even more importantly, though, there's plenty of pride at stake for both countries.
For the Canadians, it's a chance to avenge some history against the Americans. They haven't beaten the U.S. since March 2001, and although they've come close at times (including a 1-1 draw in a September friendly), the border rivalry has still been incredibly one-sided over the last decade. That doesn't mean the passion has been dialed down; if anything, on the Canadian side, it's increased.
Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc said after Friday's match that the Canadian team's always fired up to play the Americans.
"It's Canada-USA," she said. "Pick whatever sport you want. It's a battle."
LeBlanc said the U.S. poses a stiff test, but the Canadians are confident they'll rise to the challenge.
"They're the No. 1 team in the world, but we're playing at home and we're playing great soccer right now," she said.
Head coach John Herdman, who was only hired after last summer's World Cup, said after Friday's match he's already fully immersed in the Canada-U.S. rivalry.
"It's USA versus Canada, it's a derby," he said. "I've been in derbies, New Zealand versus Australia, England versus Scotland. Canada versus America, it's one of the all-time derbies."
Herdman said he's pumped up for Sunday's game even if there aren't a lot of tangible stakes on the line, and he said his players are too.
"You try telling the players it's a glorified friendly!" he said in response to a reporter's question about what's on the line. "It's Canada - U.S.; the sleeves are up all the way. We planned at the start of the tournament to win the competition, and we expected to play the U.S., and the girls are ready for it."
Canadian striker Christine Sinclair said she expects a strong pro-Canadian crowd to provide a substantial boost Sunday.
"We want this win, and the crowd will be very important," she said.
Sinclair said any chance to take on a team of the Americans' calibre is valuable.
"It's not to be squandered, a chance to play the best team in the world," she said.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said the Americans take this game seriously, too.
"Every time we play, we try to field a winning starting lineup," she said. "We will compete, that's for sure."
There are personal stakes at play too, particularly between Sinclair and U.S. striker Abby Wambach, tied with 129 career international goals. Still, it's the battle between countries that might be the most prominent, and although the top-ranked U.S. will be favoured, the Canadians aren't backing down.
"They're number-one in the world," Herdman said. "The pressure's on them."
Herdman said despite Canada's poor results against the U.S. over the last decade, the team's not intimidated by the Americans.
"They don't frighten us," he said. "They're a team we'd love to tip over on home soil."
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