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Soccer Canada women turn their attention to New Zealand and a familiar face at World Cup

After surviving Cameroon, Canada now turns its attention to New Zealand and a familiar face in Tom Sermanni at the Women’s World Cup.

The 64-year-old Scot spent a year as a technical assistant and assistant coach with the Canadian women and was on staff under John Herdman at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

“So I’m sure he knows us fairly well,” captain Christine Sinclair, who turns 36 Wednesday, said wryly. “They’re a gritty team, well organized, another team that makes it difficult to play. It’ll be a good game.”

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The Football Ferns, ranked 19th in the world, lost 1-0 on Tuesday to the eighth-ranked Netherlands on a stoppage-time header by substitute Jill Roord in their opener in Le Havre, France. The loss dropped New Zealand’s all-time record at the tournament to 0-10-2.

While the European champion Dutch had 69-per-cent possession and outshot New Zealand 8-2, the teams were tied with three shots apiece on target. New Zealand also hit the crossbar in the 11th minute.

The result keeps Canada and the Netherlands on a collision course for Group E supremacy. The two will meet on June 20 in Reims on the final day of preliminary-round play.

Next up for Canada is New Zealand on Saturday, after the Dutch face Cameroon in Valenciennes.

Canada is coming off a 1-0 win Monday over No. 46 Cameroon with a Kadeisha Buchanan header the lone breach in a stubborn African defence.

“The first game, there’s so many emotions, just so much excitement and buildup,” Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky said. “I think to come away with the win was imperative for us. It wasn’t perfect and we knew it wouldn’t be, but we weathered the storms.”

Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said Tuesday he felt better after reviewing the Cameroon game. His conclusion was Canada got into good positions, only to fall short on the final pass. The Canadians also were also overly intricate.

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“It’s also about shooting once in a while because we have the players who can do that,” he said.

The Canadians left Montpellier on Tuesday afternoon, travelling the 295 kilometres northeast to Grenoble by bus. They were greeted by mist and rain in the town nestled at the foot of the French Alps and known as the capital of the Alps.

Canadians of a certain age will associate Grenoble with skier-turned-senator Nancy Greene who won gold and silver medals there during the 1968 Winter Olympics.

New Zealand failed to make it out of the group stage in its four previous trips to the World Cup, going 0-3-0 in both 1991 and 2007 before securing draws in 2011 (0-2-1) and 2015 (0-1-2). The team has been outscored 30-6 at the tournament.

A pretournament 1-0 upset win over No. 3 England on June 1 was followed three days later by a 1-0 loss to No. 33 Wales. New Zealand is 4-4-0 this year, with other wins over No. 12 Norway, No. 26 Mexico and No. 37 Argentina. New Zealand was also beaten by the top-ranked Americans, No. 6 Australia and No. 14 South Korea.

The well-travelled Sermanni is no stranger to Heiner-Moller, having coached both Australia and the United States against the Dane.

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“He’s a great guy and a very good coach,” Heiner-Moller said.

New Zealand can be forgiven if it arrived at the tournament with a chip on its shoulder. A team preview in Deadspin called the Football Ferns “the cockroaches of women’s international soccer – they’re always around.”

With Australia now in the Asian Football Confederation, New Zealand has bossed its confederation. The team went 5-0-0 in World Cup qualifying, outscoring the likes of Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia 43-0 late last year.

Prior to the 2015 tournament, it outscored the opposition 30-0 in winning three qualifying games.

Strength of qualifying opposition aside, Zadorsky expects New Zealand to be well drilled.

“They’ll be strong defensively,” said the centreback, who also played for Sermanni with the NWSL’s Orlando Pride. “They’ll be more organized than Cameroon. We’re going to have to break them down successfully. They also have a solid counterattack and people who can put away goals.”

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The Football Ferns endured controversy in 2018 when Andreas Heraf resigned as coach and technical director in the wake of an investigation into the team’s culture following complaints from 13 players.

Sermanni was hired as coach in October, on the eve of World Cup qualifying.

New Zealand has already lost one player to injury. Defender Meikayla Moore was ruled out of the tournament after rupturing her Achilles at training.

She has been replaced by Nicole Stratford.

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