Four years after lightning called a temporary halt to their Women’s World Cup clash in Edmonton, Canada and New Zealand meet again at the soccer showcase with weather threatening to be a factor.
After glorious sunshine earlier in the week, Saturday’s forecast calls for thunderstorms during the afternoon and early evening.
“That’s fitting,” veteran Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt, casting her mind back to four years ago, said of the weather outlook.
“Looking at the forecast and seeing thunderstorms on the horizon for (Saturday) reminded me of that game as well,” added New Zealand captain Ali Riley.
The good news is the forecast downgrades the precipitation to showers and light rain around the 9 p.m. local time kickoff at Stade des Alpes.
In 2015, the two teams played to a 0-0 draw at Commonwealth Stadium once play resumed. New Zealand could thank goalkeeper Erin Nayler, who was named player of the match after a several highlight-reel saves. Canada was helped by the woodwork – Amber Hearn hammered a penalty off the crossbar.
“I just remember it being a very tough match,” Schmidt told a news conference Friday. “New Zealand shut us down, didn’t give us an inch. And I’m expecting similar from them (Saturday) that they’re going to be fighting, not giving up on anything, dangerous, and we’re going to have to be at our best and put in a good performance to get a result.”
Riley says the weather delay four year ago allowed the Football Ferns time to regroup after “being really, really under the pump” in the early going.
“I remember it being a physical game and a competitive game, as I’m sure it will be (Saturday),” she added.
Another echo from four years ago is the teams’ shared coaching ties.
In 2015, Canada was led by former New Zealand coach John Herdman. While Herdman has given way to Denmark’s Kenneth-Heiner Moller, former Herdman assistant Tom Sermanni is now running the Kiwis.
Sermanni, a veteran coach who has also looked after the U.S. and Australian national teams, spent a year with the Canadian squad and was on Herdman’s staff for the 2015 World Cup before moving on to coach the NWSL’s Orlando Pride.
“I think what they’ve done is they’ve grown as a group over that four years,” the 64-year-old Sermanni said of the Canadians. “I watched the (Canada) game (against Cameroon) the other day and I think there was probably eight starting players that were with us in Canada.
“So they’ve had another four years together, including some of the younger players who have obviously matured over that time. So I think they’ve just carried on the progress since then.”
Sermanni said the fifth-ranked Canada and No. 19 New Zealand sides share many traits.
“From working with both sets of players, I think there are lots of similarities – in their personalities, in how they’re very grounded, how they’re team-oriented and how they just get on with the job,” he said.
Canada has lost just once in 11 career meetings with New Zealand (6-1-4), with the lone loss coming the first time they played in 1987.
The Canadian women are coming off a 1-0 win over No. 46 Cameroon while New Zealand lost to the eighth-ranked Dutch on a stoppage-time goal by substitute Jill Roord. New Zealand’s Olivia Chance had hit the crossbar in the 11th minute.
“We still feel confident, I think if anything more confident because we did play well and we did have those chances,” said Riley. “But of course it is still a loss.
“But I think the team is still feeling really, really good after that game. Tom, all the coaches, everyone has stressed we should be really proud of how we performed.”
Both teams need a win.
Canada wants to keep pace with the European champion Dutch, who meet Cameroon in Valenciennes earlier Saturday, in the race for Group E supremacy. New Zealand, in its fifth World Cup, is searching for its first World Cup win while trying to keep its chances of reaching the knockout stage alive.
“It would mean everything,” Riley said when asked about recording that elusive first tournament victory. “That’s obviously our biggest goal coming into the tournament. I think being close a few times in the first game and it not panning out the way it hoped, it still gives us confidence going into this game.”
New Zealand’s World Cup record is 0-10-3, but six of those losses came in 1991 and 2007. The team is 0-4-3 since in tournament play.