Canada was on the verge of elimination, two goals and just 45 minutes away from being ousted from its most important tournament, and on home turf.
Clearly the Canadians weren’t willing to let it end.
Trailing 2-0 to Finland at halftime, Nichelle Prince scored the game-winner as Canada roared back to win 3-2 at the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup on Friday, breathing new life into the team’s hopes of advancing.
“It was a great atmosphere in the locker-room (at halftime) considering the score,” said coach Andrew Olivieri. “They were just really clear of the objective in the second. We had to find a way to finally put one in and then keep the pressure on.”
Janine Beckie and Valerie Sanderson, second-half substitutes, also scored in a thrilling final 45 minutes that Canada thoroughly dominated.
Coming off a 1-0 loss to Ghana in their tournament opener, the Canadians needed at least a draw to have any hopes of moving on, but a victory looked far from certain until Beckie, who plays college soccer at Texas Tech, finally scored the team’s first goal of the tournament in the 48th minute.
The 19-year-old, whose older brother is former Columbus Crew defender Drew Beckie, fired a shot off the post that curled in off a Finnish defender.
“Andrew (made the substitutions) to bring a little bit more energy to the game, we were in a little bit of a slump so I just wanted to come on and bring my own kind of energy and my game,” Beckie said. “I scored the goal, thank god, it was a great ball in, and we were just really excited to get in there and make a difference.”
Sanderson, a 19-year-old who plays for the University of Memphis, pulled Canada even in the 50th when she one-timed a low cross from Prince to beat Finnish goalkeeper Vera Varis.
The 19-year-old Prince, a forward at Ohio State University, scored in the 80th minute, one-timing a cross from Beckie to the delight of the noisy fans at National Soccer Stadium — or BMO Field to its regular inhabitants, Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Prince said. “We all worked hard to get back to the 2-2 tie, and we just had to push a little bit longer and get that extra goal in. I knew we were going to get it and I was happy I could be the one to score.”
The game drew 16,503 fans to the lakeshore stadium. A large section of Ghana fans had stuck around from their 3-0 loss to North Korea in the early game, and spontaneously broke into “O Canada.”
“That’s for sure the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, and it was just incredible,” Beckie said. “To have this World Cup at home in front of a 16,000-plus stadium is just an unbelievable feeling, and for them to be behind us the whole game, even when we were down, they really helped us get that win.”
Canada heads to Montreal to face Finland on Tuesday in its final game of the preliminary round.
The Canadians need to finish top two in Group A to advance to the quarter-finals of the tournament, which is a test run for the Women’s World Cup next year in Canada.
Juliette Kemppi scored both goals for Finland, opening the scoring in the ninth minute with a header of a corner kick.
Kemppi doubled Finland’s lead in the 21st, capitalizing on a poor clearing effort by Canada. Sura Yekka, who made her national senior debut almost a year ago, passed the ball inside straight to the foot of Kemppi, who launched a shot past Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
Canada’s ‘keeper said, despite the halftime score, she was confident her team could turn it around.
“We had a long talk about this before the game, it was really important for us to get goals, and (the strikers) were determined, I knew they were determined,” Sheridan said. “They had so much grit and so much power in them, I was just so happy when that first goal went in, I knew we were going to get ahead.”
Finland had opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss to North Korea, which is undefeated in two games to lead Group A.
Canada’s best finish at this tournament was in 2002 — a loss to the United States in the gold-medal game in Edmonton in an event that launched the international careers of Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang, among others.
The Canadians had several other decent scoring chances Friday, including a couple from Jessie Fleming. The 16-year-old had a long floating shot that bounced off the crossbar midway through the first half, then fired a low shot that Varis had to dive for a few minutes later.
Emma Fletcher fired a long volley off a cross from Prince that would have been a beautiful goal had it not soared just wide of the net.
The Canadians know they’re in tough in against North Korea.
“They’re the third best in the world in youth programs,” Olivieri said. “We know we need to play better than we did tonight, even though there was some good stuff, some bright moments, and we’re going to have to play 90 minutes of quality football against North Korea just to get a result.”
The Group A winner will play its quarter-final in Toronto, while second place in the group will head to Edmonton for the quarters. The tournament semifinals are in Montreal and Moncton, N.B., while Montreal hosts the gold-medal game.
Earlier in the day, Ri Un-Sim scored twice as North Korea blanked Ghana 3-0 to take sole possession of top spot in Group A.
Jo Son-Yon also scored a stoppage-time penalty for North Korea (2-0-0), which will face Canada on Aug. 12.
In Group B play, Sara Daebritz and Theresa Panfil each scored twice as Germany and China battled to a 5-5 draw. Pauline Bremer added the other for the Germans (1-1-0), while Zhu Beiyan led China (0-2-0) with a pair of goals and Jiali Tang, Zang Chen and Lei Jiahui each scored once.
Also, Lindsey Horan scored once to lead the United States to a 1-0 victory over Brazil. The Americans are 1-0-1, while Brazil is 0-1-1.