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Before we get started, it's important to remember exactly how big a disaster this was last time around. It was somewhere between Krakatoa and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Canada came into the 2011 Women's World Cup riding a whippit high – annoyingly giggly and exceedingly brief.

One recalls watching an eve-of-the-tournament practice in Berlin ending with a team chant – "We love soccer!" – and thinking, "Well, this is either bad or really bad."

They were led by Carolina Morace, a cultish charlatan who'd Svengali'd the lot of them. She'd convinced them to quit their pro teams and kept the group in seclusion in Italy for months. They'd developed a sort of secret language with each other, like twins living in the attic. They talked a bunch of junk about a new way of playing that never actually appeared on the field.

It was all very will-to-power and a little bit Manson Family. More of the latter, as it turned out, though all massacres would be inwardly directed.

That World Cup effectively ended after five days and two comprehensive losses. Canada spent three of those days focused on a self-destructive bit of theatre centred around convincing people captain Christine Sinclair – who'd had her nose broken in the first match – wouldn't play in game two. The coaching staff conducted the elaborate hoax, including the cruel move of pushing in front of cameras the rookie we were all supposed to believe would start in Sinclair's place.

I suppose the idea was to unsettle their opponent, France. It had rather the opposite effect. The resultant 4-0 loss may be the lowest point in the recent history of the Canadian women's set-up. Morace spent most of her post-match presser acting as if she'd just met the team on the bus over, and wiping her hands of them. It was a marvelous piece of Machiavellianism.

My best memory of that tournament is rebooking my flight home in the mixed zone. This was not the kind of atmosphere you leave. It was the sort you flee.

While the players were standing slack-jawed at one end of a temporary tent, I was fist-pumping at the other.

The colleagues I left behind for the five-day death march into Dresden and a meaningless final game with Nigeria are still scarred. I like to bring it up as often as possible. For therapeutic reasons. Mine, not theirs.

The 2012 Olympics may be our emotional backdrop for the next month, but that last World Cup is their motivational launching pad. It wasn't a failure. It was a humiliation, born largely of contempt for the rest of the world.

This time around, Canada has done its tactical and media diligence. In different circumstances, this would be a more boisterous beginning – a thematic continuation from the bronze-medal celebration in London.

There has been none of that feeling. The most hopeful thing about Canada's World Cup chances is how unhopeful team members feel.

In Germany, everyone was droning on about one loss in 13 lead-up games and an all-time-high world ranking (sixth). The Canadians carried themselves into the tournament on each other's shoulders. It was only in retrospect that what had seemed like confidence began to look like a nervous mania.

In London, it was sullen from the off. The players arrived chastened, but they couldn't stop gushing about Herdman – which was exactly the way they'd talked about Morace before turning on her. They seemed to know it, too. The more they talked about new coach, the more embarrassed they seemed to feel about the old coach.

Canada had no expectations. For public consumption, Herdman wasn't sure they'd get out of the group. He toyed impishly with the idea of "hope."

When his team got worked over in their first Olympic match by world champions Japan, Herdman began his press conference with: "I thought Canada dominated the game from start to finish."

The joy we all felt in that moment. The giddy, malevolent joy of the ripping to come. And then Herdman said, "Just kidding."

You felt you knew the man all of a sudden. And he was no Morace.

Despite how it turned out, Herdman was right. His team wasn't that great. Resilient and watchable, sure. But nowhere close to great.

They beat the teams they were better than (South Africa and Great Britain). They lost to the teams they weren't (Japan and the U.S.). And then they absolutely fluked their way into a medal against France. France!

Oh, the irony. Or, as the French would say, "We have a better word for that."

Around here, we only speak the first half of the truth about London. Canada was jobbed out of a berth in the gold-medal game by a referee. Then Canada's goalposts jobbed France out of a bronze.

Since then, the Canadians have continued not being that great. Or even very good. They've lost two of their last three competitive matches. They haven't beaten a truly top side in the last year. They also lost to Chile (ranked 42nd in the world).

Every single person I've spoken to who watches the women's game closely thinks Canada's best possible result is a quarterfinal berth. Semis, if every single thing breaks right.

In this paper on Monday, Herdman wrote that Canada has one possible outcome: "We have to get to the final."

It's the sort of thing a coach has to say. After this tournament, most of this current generation of Canadian women will be finished as internationals. After that, a significant rebuilding process looms. That will take many years to complete.

And so the correct way to approach the most significant soccer tournament ever held in this country is as a pre-emptive wake, and without any real hope of a result.

Because that's when this team – the country's most consistently surprising, for good and bad – does its best.